In Landover, no clamor for Commanders to stay

In Landover, no clamor for Commanders to stay

Rhonda Dozier wanted Washington’s $ 4 billion football team to pay for a playground for the kids who’d grown up in the shadow of its stadium at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. For a community used to the indignities of having a stadium in its backyard, it didn’t feel like too big an ask.

The next year, the then-housing cooperative president tried again, explaining in a 2018 note to the organization that she represented single moms and elderly women with limited incomes. “If there is anything you can do to assist us,” Dozier wrote in 2018, “we would be grateful.” She never heard back.

At this point, Dozier said, she is ready to say goodbye.

“I don’t know anyone who would say it has been worth the headache,” Dozier said. “It didn’t benefit us. At all. ”

After 25 years in Landover, debates about where the Washington Commanders will play after their contractual obligation ends in 2027 are unfolding across Maryland, Virginia and DC In private meetings and on state house floors, lawmakers are considering how hard they want to fight, and what public funds they are willing to spend, on a team that Congress is investigating for widespread sexual harassment and that faces allegations of financial improprieties under Daniel Snyder’s ownership.

Those who want to keep the stadium in Prince George’s County say its been an important source of tax revenue and has untapped potential. With investment from the state, it could anchor a sprawling corridor of redevelopment along the Blue Line that, if successful, could reshape some of Prince George’s poorest communities.

In Landover, residents aren’t clamoring for the team to stay. They say they’ve seen a lot of traffic and a lot of litter, but little in the way of outreach from Washington’s football team. Many are still hoping for the revitalization that government officials and the team envisioned when it moved in 1997.

State lawmakers are moving forward with a $ 400 million package that would improve the area around FedEx but not put any money toward a new stadium – a consequence of the team’s fraught reputation (Maryland is willing to spend $ 600 million on each of the Baltimore stadiums used by the state’s other two professional sports teams). By directing the cash directly to the community, lawmakers said, it means that wherever the team decides to build a stadium, Landover residents will not be forgotten.

“The community wants a good partner – a partner that is serious about responding to them,” said state Del. Jazz Lewis (D-Prince George’s), who represents the area. “They have not had that, although it is getting better.”

Since Jason Wright became Commanders president in 2020, the team has tried to more frequently engage the community – including last year inviting a local high school’s football team to a game – and Wright said in a statement this week that he’s “been encouraged from the feedback I’ve heard directly from leaders and elected officials from the communities surrounding FedEx Field. ”

“Through that engagement and dialogue, we are making a concerted effort to listen to these stakeholders and support the changes they want to see,” he said.

Congress investigating allegations of financial impropriety by Commanders

Dozier, who bought her home in 1999 and served for nine years as the president of Capital View Mutual Homes, a 120-house cooperative abutting the stadium, said residents here knew there would be inconveniences that came with living so close to the stadium.

But she didn’t expect traffic so bad she can barely leave the house on game days. Or that the cooperative, which she led until last year, would hire a tow truck company to scare off people who try to park in neighborhood spaces. Or the fans who’ve repeatedly kicked down the fence behind her house, using her yard as a shortcut to the stadium.

Dozier said she thinks people here could’ve tolerated all that, if the team had been better neighbors.

“You reward kindness with kindness,” Dozier said.

Where the stadium now sits, there used to be a dairy farm.

“There were cows and red dirt roads,” said Donna Johnson, 64, as she stood in the front yard of the house her family moved into when she was 8.

Shaking her head as cars whizzed past, she added, “There was none of this.”

From the beginning, there was an acrimonious debate about whether a stadium should be built here – and about the extent to which it would actually benefit Prince George’s, a DC suburb that’s known for its concentration of Black professionals but that also has deep pockets of poverty.

“Well, that doesn’t make any sense,” then-Gov. Parris Glendening said he thought when he saw plans to build a stadium where Wilson Farm was located.

The site was too far from a Metro station (the closest one, Morgan Boulevard station, is about a mile away) and lacked the necessary road infrastructure, he remembers thinking. But Glendening said he supported the Landover stadium because he wanted the Prince George’s delegation to back an incentive package for what is now the Ravens’ stadium in Baltimore.

He said the team’s then-owner Jack Kent Cooke and his lobbyists, who were eager to leave the smallest stadium in the National Football League behind in DC, talked up the booming commercial area they said would replace pasture land once the stadium opened.

Local leaders worried the community could get short shrift. Then-Prince George’s County executive Wayne K. Curry, a lawyer, personally negotiated the deal and sought concessions, including a massive county recreation center paid for by the team and state that now bears his name.

He declared in 1995 that Prince Georgians were the “triumphant winners” of the deal – which included Cooke investing his own money to build the stadium.

Today, officials and residents agree: Broad revitalization has not happened. Unlike neighborhoods around Nationals Park in DC or the Orioles ‘and Ravens’ stadiums in Baltimore, there aren’t restaurants and bars within walking distance of FedEx Field. Many of the houses in the area are aging. Fans spend their money in the stadium then leave. The mall directly across from the stadium has been largely abandoned since it closed two decades ago.

Sandra Pruitt, a nonprofit leader and homeowner near the stadium, still remembers specific promises officials made about upscale restaurants and shops, that the area around Landover would be “booming.”

“When the last stadium was built, we lost,” she said. “The people lost.”

Maryland pitched expansive development to keep Commanders – and stave off economic devastation if they leave

Glendening regrets his initial support for the stadium, saying it’s “brought more harm than good to the area.”

But former Prince George’s County executive Rushern Baker III (D) – who as a young delegate opposed the stadium and slammed his fist during a floor debate while arguing the deal left residents behind – now sees it differently. He argues that without the roads that came with the stadium’s infrastructure package, the new hospital and county administration building would not have opened in Largo.

The plan backed by County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) calls for the state to invest in the creation of a “Stadium District,” including a hotel, convention center, elevated walkways, basketball and volleyball courts, a conference center and hotel, and perhaps a charter school.

Alsobrooks told lawmakers last month that she wants the team to stay, but her priority is bringing resources to an area that she said has historically gotten too little state investment.

“Make sure,” she told lawmakers, “that Prince Georgians are not left behind.”

For Johnson, who grew up on Sheriff Road and now lives here with her two sisters in the house her parents bought, the main change the stadium has brought is traffic.

Last year, when she made the mistake of trying to drive the same day as the team played the Dallas Cowboys at home, it took her 45 minutes to go two miles.

To add insult to injury, Washington lost.

“I want them to go,” Johnson said of the team. For fans and for residents, she said, it’d be better to have a stadium in a place that’s more easily accessible – either closer to a Metro line or with less congested roads.

“For me, they can stay,” interjected her sister, Terry Johnson. “Otherwise, you’re gonna have nothing there.”

It’s the same fear shared by Shacana Blackwell, a medical assistant who lives off Sheriff Road. If the team leaves, she said, she worries that area will be “forgotten and abandoned.”

The Commanders haven’t been especially visible in the community, she said, but sometimes they have shown up. Her daughter Ma’Kiya Wilson, a 15-year-old high school freshman, was for years so upset by the litter on game days that Blackwell reached out to the team to see if Wilson, who is a Girl Scout, could work with them on a litter reduction project.

She didn’t hear back at first. But eventually, she got connected with county council member Jolene Ivey (D-District 5), who represents the area, and Ivey got the Commanders’ attention. Together, they organized a cleanup last year.

It was part of the team’s enhanced focus on Landover since Wright took over as president, including donating $ 10,000 to Fairmont Heights High School’s football program and inviting its team to a game. The Commanders have also started dedicating proceeds from their 50/50 raffle, which used to be disbursed countywide, to communities within 1.5 miles of the stadium.

“I’m torn,” Blackwell said. “The stadium brings trash, but also money and attention.”

At the very least, she said, decision-makers should ask the community what it wants.

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