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Issa Says Lifting District’s Height Act Could Lure Pro Football Back to D.C.

Wooing Washington’s National Football League franchise back to the city would be easier if D.C. would lift its building height limits, according to Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

The city’s reluctance to alter the limits imposed more than 100 years ago under the 1910 Height of Buildings Act prevents it from planning the sort of world-class stadium and surrounding developments that could lure the team away from FedExField in Landover, Md., Issa claims.

“Go to many of the new stadiums that have been built,” the House Oversight and Government Reform chairman said to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., during a March 12 hearing. “They’re often built with buildings that are part of the plan.”

Attracting the maximum amount of economic activity that can be generated by a pro sports stadium, the logic goes, requires more than just a field and seats.

Issa’s home state provides one example. In California, construction of San Diego’s Petco Park, home to Major League Baseball’s Padres, led to more than $2 billion in new investment in the surrounding neighborhood, including the luxurious Omni Hotel connected to the stadium via a suspension sky bridge.

Up the road from D.C., the Baltimore Ravens play in the downtown M&T Bank Stadium within walking distance of the historic Inner Harbor, a neighborhood renowned for its post-industrial waterfront redevelopment.

As Issa phrased it during his colloquy in support of amending the Height Act: “a large and relatively high structure,” like a stadium, “can, in fact, be surrounded and adorned with buildings that represent appropriate height for that area.”

D.C. officials have expressed plenty of interest in luring the area football team back inside city limits with new development — but they seem to have no love for new vertical growth.

Three candidates for mayor have introduced a proposal in the D.C. Council requiring the mayor to conduct a study of the “economic feasibility, economic impact and costs” of new entertainment development in Southeast D.C., including a 100,000-seat superdome that they envision could one day host a Super Bowl (or mixed martial arts matches, national political conventions and maybe even the Olympics).

“The city of Indianapolis, which built a domed stadium, hosted Super Bowl XLVI in 2012 and gross expenditures reached $384 million,” the bill notes. “That figure is indicative of the revenues that the District could generate with the development of a sports and entertainment complex.”

Vincent Orange is sponsoring the bill, and fellow Democratic mayoral candidates Muriel Bowser and Jack Evans have signed on as co-sponsors. Paying homage to local music legends, the stadium complex would include an outdoor “Marvin Gaye Square” with live music and a designated “Chuck Brown Stage” for performances, in addition to restaurants, a food truck court, a beer garden and a nearby housing complex complete with a 24-hour diner, grocery store and movie theater.

The proposal also suggests the DC National Guard Armory could be turned into a soundstage, making Washington a more attractive destination for movie and TV producers. Nearby would be a film center with two state-of-the-art theaters and private screening rooms “capable of both 35mm and digital projection,” along with a gallery, cafe and gift store.

Nearby Langston Golf Course could undergo a complete renovation, to be brought up to par for PGA Championship golf. The bill also envisions an indoor water park and more than 1,000 hotel rooms to accommodate all the new visitors.

Brian Flahaven, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Hill East, thinks the study and the development it suggests would be a bad idea. He describes the arrangement as “a random grab bag of pet projects that will do little for the neighborhood and city.”

As for Issa’s concerns that height limits would be an obstacle to attracting the sort of development that could ultimately woo Washington’s football team — the same councilmembers supporting the bill say they are opposed to any changes to the current Height Act.

Bowser, Evans and Orange all indicated that, if elected mayor, they would not support changes to existing height limits.

Issa said he sees opportunities and “economic challenges … but again, that’s for the city fathers, that’s for you as their elected representatives,” he said, noting that his committee stands ready to assist “in any way we can to enhance the federal city.”

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