Officials present new arena details in Saturday public hearing

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Officials present new arena details in Saturday public hearing
Tentative plans have been made in redeveloping the area around the Potomac Yard-VT Metro station to accommodate Monumental Sports & Entertainment. (Rendering courtesy of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership)
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By Caitlyn Meisner | cmeisner@alextimes.com

At Saturday’s City Council public hearing, City Manager Jim Parajon and Alexandria Economic Development Partnership’s President and CEO Stephanie Landrum presented Council with more details on the proposed Monumental development at Potomac Yard.

In their 16-slide presentation, the two touched on funding sources, community priorities and the economic impact of the proposal. Parajon spoke first and said this was a competitive project in which the city competed against multiple cities and states for the new arena.

“When we think about the competitive nature of this, that compels that competition to be in a more private setting,” Parajon said. “We now are at that [public] point where many of these things can get shared publicly. No formal decision has been made on this project.”

Parajon said while negotiations were private, the project cannot move forward unless it’s in public. He also quickly clarified that this project was not just merely the moving of two sports franchises to the city: It means the creation of an entertainment district, two new corporate headquarters, new jobs, hotels, affordable housing and more.

“The city of Alexandria was selected and chosen to potentially be home to two sports franchises, which puts us in very elite company in terms of visibility, brand awareness and marketing value,” Parajon said.

He then listed four reasons why the community should seriously consider this project. Parajon emphasized “seriously” because Council has not yet acted and the public engagement process has just begun.

“This project aligns very well with the vision that was established for this area in a small area plan. … This site was always intended to be a significant development,” Parajon said. “It has the potential to create a stronger financial future for the city by growing our commercial tax base, which will support city operations into the future. … It creates opportunity for wealth creation, particularly in marginalized populations. through job creation.”

Landrum then discussed the layout of the planned development area. Landrum said there are four sections of the area: Monumental’s headquarters and arena; the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus; future development of office, residential, retail, meeting spaces and hotels; and long-term future development.

Landrum said Monumental’s headquarters would act as the catalyst for all future development in the area and would be built first. In addition to the headquarters, other development would include an arena to house the Washington Wizards, and Washington Capitals, the Monumental Sports Network media studio, a Wizards practice facility, an esports facility, a performing arts venue and a 2,500 space underground parking garage.

She said Monumental’s campus will only encapsulate about 15% of the project and the remaining 85% is for retail, hotels and housing. The 85% is considered Phase I of the project, while the 15% is considered the Arena Phase.

“By making this 15% [of the] project happen, we actually catalyze the remainder of the 85% of redevelopment that our community has envisioned in our small area plan,” Landrum said.

Phase I of the project, according to Landrum, would need to be agreed upon by the city, Commonwealth and JBG Smith, the property owners. Phases II and III are slated to be developed upon completion of the previous phases as current retail leases on the site expire and the market supports the efforts.

Landrum then showed renderings, which she clarified are not official designs for the Potomac Yard area.

“Nothing has been designed, but as we have gone through to evaluate whether something like this was possible, we needed to understand if and how some of these uses could fit within the existing framework of Potomac Yard,” Landrum said. “This part of what we design and what it looks like will go through a land use process.”

Landrum then walked through the process of considering bringing in a new company or business into the city by looking at its alignment with the market and the city’s vision. She named viable commercial uses in a post-pandemic world, alignment with the small area plans and a community vision for development as reasons to pursue the project.

She also said there were two main guiding principles: Seeking partnerships to secure commitments and funding – namely from the Commonwealth, Monumental and JBG Smith – and to ensure there were benefits for the community.

Another principle she highlighted was the city’s credit rating, which is AAA, the highest rating a municipality can receive. This means the city poses minimal risk when borrowing, according to Moody’s.

“We would not bring forward a project that was financeable on its own,” Landrum said. “A lot of what we have been analyzing over the months that led up to us bringing you this opportunity was really understanding how this business runs, how public entities have invested in assets like this, what public entities have done it right, what have done it wrong and make sure what we’re bringing forward to you is a proposal that everyone can feel comfortable with.”

Landrum emphasized this venue is essential to Alexandria and is currently missing in the city’s repertoire.

“We’ve talked a lot with our partners at Visit Alexandria about the opportunity to continue to drive tourism, but also what leads we lose to neighboring jurisdictions because we don’t have the right facilities,” Landrum said. “This is a facility … that we are missing.”

Landrum then discussed the economic impact of the development and tax revenues this complex will bring to the city. She said revenue will support building affordable housing, K-12 and higher education opportunities as well as transit improvements. She said this could ultimately create 30,000 jobs and bring up to $12 billion across several decades.

Parajon then detailed the timeline, City Council actions and public engagement process moving forward. He said steps one and two of the process are complete – announcement of the project and the public hearing presentation – and step three commences next year with community engagement and Planning Commission proposals.

These proposals for the Commission include master plan amendments to the North Potomac Yard Small Area Plan, coordinated development district amendments and development special use permits. This will then be presented to City Council, and if approved, will move the process into the design phase by mid-2024. If that’s approved, by early 2025, the project can break ground.

Landrum and Parajon said there are priority topics to be discussed with the community, including transportation and infrastructure to ensure the city can manage the new development. They said there is a four-part plan to improve transportation with neighborhood protections, transit, smart mobility and roadways.

According to the project website’s frequently asked questions, there are some details as of now that show the planned improvements for the transportation aspect. Some include event and transit ticket promotions for transit, accelerated technology investments in signals and investing in “safe and slow streets” in adjacent neighborhoods.

Landrum also clarified the issue of the Target store on the proposed development site, which had many people frustrated on social media. She said Target’s location was only temporary from the time it was built and these discussions about it moving would have to happen with or without this proposal.

Councilor Canek Aguirre began Council’s questioning by recognizing the odd timing of the announcement in light of the divisive Zoning for Housing vote in November.

“Something that’s going to be very important to me is if we have a tracker,” Aguirre said. “This is something we were kind of missing for Zoning for Housing and I want to include not just everything that the city manager was describing, but if any of us are at events as well … how many emails do we get, how many interactions are we having on social media, how many people have signed up for news alerts. We want to be tracking all of that so we can show the engagement we’re doing.”

Aguirre also asked for a more detailed timeline, infographics and important dates for the General Assembly that align with this project. Councilor Sarah Bagley mentioned noise as being a potential issue, as the complex will exist next to the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport tarmacs. McPike also requested a Council town hall be scheduled for early January. Vice Mayor Amy Jackson raised the issue of traffic flow through roads, requesting traffic studies of people flowing in from Maryland and neighboring jurisdictions.

“If this venue does occur, people will have tickets in hand and then will get really frustrated if there isn’t an easy way to get in and out of our city, and that’s not a good look,” Jackson said. “How are [people] coming from Maryland and back? How are they coming through D.C. and Arlington and back?”

Councilor John Taylor Chapman requested small businesses and businesses surrounding the potential development be met with similar to residents. The public discussion period then began, and there were a few residents that spoke in opposition to the potential development.

“People in Potomac Yard, who the city invited to move into a brand new, mixed-use neighborhood, and now, via press conference – that they were not invited to – are be- ing asked to put up a[n arena] almost literally in their backyards,” Jonathan Husky, resident of Warwick Village, said. “This is a nasty thing to do to our friends across the river and will undermine a central hub for the region just to perpetuate a filthy competition for sports franchises.”

Adrien Lopez spoke next, who was one of the protestors at the announcement, and has resided in Potomac Yard since 2014.

“The noise pollution, the traffic pollution, the light pollution, the people pollution, the lack of green space no longer make our community livable and the reason we left [Washington,] D.C. to come to Alexandria,” Lopez said. “Potomac Yard was never meant to be an entertainment district.”

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