A Monumental announcement

A Monumental announcement
Mayor Justin Wilson at the announcement of the planned development of a new arena for the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals in December 2023. (Photo/Caitlyn Meisner)

This is no longer Patsy Ticer’s Alexandria. 

Wednesday’s game-changing announcement that the land most directly adjacent to Alexandria’s new Potomac Yard Metro station will be redeveloped into a large sports and entertainment complex brought back memories of our much-loved former mayor. 

For the uninitiated – of which there are clearly many given Alexandria’s population growth in recent years – Ticer led the way in opposing the relocation of the Washington Redskins, now known as the Commanders, to Potomac Yard back in 1992. 

Back in 1992, as now, Virginia’s governor and the team owner secretly negotiated a deal to build a new stadium for a professional sports team to relocate to Alexandria’s Potomac Yard. Then, it was Democratic Gov. Doug Wilder and Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke. Now, it’s Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Washington Capitals and Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis. 

A major difference between events of 31 years ago and today is that Mayor Ticer opposed, worked against and defeated the project. Conversely, current Mayor Justin Wilson – who recently announced he won’t seek reelection next year – supports the initiative. 

While there are similarities between the two initiatives, there are also major differences. 

In 1992, a Metro station at Potomac Yard was desired but literally decades from fruition. Now it’s open and directly adjacent to the proposed site. It will be possible for not just people from around the region to ride Metro to watch the Wizards or Capitals play, but also Alexandrians to ride from the King Street, Braddock, Eisenhower or Huntington stops over to Potomac Yard. 

And this project would bring not just the Wizards and Capitals to Potomac Yard, but also the headquarters for Leonsis’ Monumental Sports & Entertainment, along with a new performing arts venue and entertainment district. It will be a focal point for the whole region, not just Alexandria. 

It’s important to note several key aspects of this project. The first is that this is a framework, not a done deal. There are many approval points where hurdles and opposition could still derail the initiative. 

And the devil will definitely be in the details. 

While the city of Alexandria’s official announcement about the project said taxes on local residents will not be used to pay for this project, questions remain as to what tax revenues will flow to the city. In initiatives bargained at the state level, as this one was, tax enticements lure businesses to relocate from one state to another, often making the state and not the actual location site first in line for tax revenues. 

And speaking of flows, how is Alexandria’s stormwater system going to handle a development project of this size? 

As with the recently passed Zoning for Housing initiative, the Del Ray neighborhood is going to be disproportionately impacted by this project. While Del Ray residents will have the convenience of being able to walk to a concert or sporting event, how will that neighborhood be protected from the daily onslaught of people – and the motor vehicles that many of them will inevitably drive to Alexandria – who will converge in this entertainment district? 

There’s also the fact that downtown sports arenas are almost always preferable to suburban ones. These are the Washington Wizards and the Washington Capitals, not the Alexandria Wizards or Virginia Capitals. 

If this proposal comes to fruition, only half of the six “Washington” major sports teams – the Washington Nationals, D.C. United and the Washington Mystics – would actually play in the city, with the Commanders, Wizards and Capitals in the suburbs. 

While this project looks like a significant win for Alexandria, it would be an equally large loss for the District.