Wizards, Capitals to move to Potomac Yard

Wizards, Capitals to move to Potomac Yard
The official rendering of the planned complex at Potomac Yard for the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals. (Photo/JBG Smith)

By Caitlyn Meisner | cmeisner@alextimes.com and Ryan Hopper | rhopper@utexas.edu

It’s official: A massive entertainment district, anchored by a new arena for the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals, is slated for Alexandria’s Potomac Yard. The proposed complex will also include a performing arts venue and a headquarters building for Monumental Sports & Entertainment, whose CEO, Ted Leonsis, owns both the Wizards and Capitals.

A large group of elected officials and business leaders, including Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson, Leonsis and Alexandria Economic Development Partnership President and CEO Stephanie Landrum gathered Wednesday morning at the Potomac Yard Metro station to announce and celebrate the planned development.

On the cold, sunny morning, the tent was buzzing with JBG Smith, Monumental and AEDP executives, along with reporters, Alexandrians, politicians and event staff. As the ceremony was taking place, roughly two dozen protestors – who could be heard inside the tent – gathered outside. Many had signs stating their displeasure with Leonsis and the elected officials inside. Some of them even shouted at Democratic Senator Mark Warner’s motorcade as it left the event.

Rumors had been swirling for a couple of weeks that a major announcement was afoot, but didn’t seem concrete until Tuesday, when Youngkin’s office issued a press release stating that “a remarkable economic development project for the Commonwealth” would be unveiled in Alexandria the next day.

A couple of weeks prior, nearby residents claimed on social media they had been notified of a new planned arena at Potomac Yard. Then, the Washington Post reported on Monday the General Assembly Major Economic Investment Project Approval Commission unanimously approved a complex. Youngkin also mentioned this in the live announcement.

Alexandria Economic Development Partnership President and CEO Stephanie Landrum introducing the speakers for the announcement. (Photo/Caitlyn Meisner)

Landrum spoke first at the ceremony about this “pretty incredible opportunity” and introduced Youngkin, who made the move official.

“After many years of dreaming and many years of discussion, I am pleased to announce that right here in Alexandria’s Potomac Yard, we have a plan to unleash a brighter, more extraordinary future,” Youngkin said. “As part of this amazing project, we will build a spectacular $2 billion sports and entertainment district, [which] will be at the heart of the most vibrant innovation corridor in the world. The corridor that starts at Amazon HQ2 and stretches through the Virginia Tech Innovation campus and will find its anchor here in Alexandria with this amazing sports and entertainment district.”

In addition to a new arena for the Capitalsand Wizards, Youngkin said there will be a new Monumental Sports Network media studio, a practice facility for the Wizards, a 6,000-seat performing arts venue, an expanded esports venue, new retail restaurants, a conference center, hotels and gathering spaces.

“This visionary sports and entertainment development district will bring together entertainment, sports and technology like nowhere in the world,” Youngkin said. “This once in a generation historic development will be the best place to live, work, raise a family and watch hockey and basketball.”

According to AEDP, the project – pending necessary approvals – is expected to break ground in 2025. The arena is expected to open in late 2028.

Youngkin then discussed the economic impact of this new complex.

“The city of Alexandria, the Commonwealth will all win together,” Youngkin said. “I pledged that any projects like this would first and foremost be good for the Virginia taxpayer and that’s exactly what this project represents. The upfront investments harnessing the financial horsepower of the future, incremental taxes and other revenues with an estimated $12 billion of economic contribution.”

He said this signals a new chapter for the state as a  whole. With a new partnership between the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus and Monumental, infrastructure, business-ready sites and world-class education, Youngkin said he is ready to christen the next chapter.

The governor also pointed to the bipartisanship that made this move happen.

“I want to thank our incoming House Majority leader [Charniele] Herring for her support. I also look forward to working together to make sure that all of the aspirations for this innovation district are fulfilled,” Youngkin said.

Mayor Justin Wilson spoke next, first thanking City Council for its partnership and City Manager Jim Parajon for his leadership.

“We stand in a yard that used to have 136 miles of railroad track where they serviced over a hundred trains per day for over half a century,” Wilson said. “This area was the economic engine for our city. For most of our city’s h

istory, we have thrived because of what we were close to: close to the river, close to the railroad, close to our nation’s capital.

“Fast forward to the spring of 2020, our economy has stopped. Our small businesses were on the brink. Every week, I was getting a new notification of thousands of residents that were losing their jobs, but in that experience we realized something as a community … something broader, something more intrinsic to the ethos of this place,” Wilson said.

Wilson recalled the ethos of Alexandria as a place for visitors, no matter if it’s for the arts or sports teams. He said the experience of bringing a child to their first sporting event is unforgettable, and he wants those memories to be made in Alexandria.

“It is in this yard, this very yard that serves a hundred trains a day that we will create those experiences for generations,” Wilson said. “We’ll do so in a way that is accountable to our taxpayers, respectful to our incredible neighborhood and helps us to create more housing, schools, transportation improvements and higher educational opportunities.”

Leonsis spoke next about his love for the area as a Georgetown University graduate and the geographical opportunities the DMV offers.

“Our commitment will be to build really iconic fan-centric businesses, and we want to unite this community,” Leonsis said. “What we are about is putting unity in a community and really helping this region bring up to its full promise.”

Leonsis said the vision to expand Monumental Sports beyond Washington, D.C. came because his teams’ markets run from Richmond to Delaware.

“Our games, our brands really start in Richmond and go all the way past Baltimore,” Leonsis said. “So that notion of community and DMV really is what our business is about. That’s the higher calling for sports. That is the higher calling on everything that we do.”

In terms of economic development, Leonsis said he wants Monumental to leave a lasting impact on Alexandria and is focused on being a good neighbor.

“That is our commitment: create jobs, pay taxes, hire people from Virginia Tech and George Mason [University]. We want to leave much more than we take, and that is the promise that my family and everyone in our community will continue to do,” Leonsis said.

Along with the Wizards and Capitals, Leonsis also owns the Washington Mystics, the Women’s National Basketball Association team in the District. Leonsis said the Mystics will play at Capital One Arena, even though his two other teams will be departing for Virginia.

“We’ve invested $200 million in the last 10 years in keeping Capital One world-class as an arena, and our intention is to expand here and keep Capital One a great place,” Leonsis said.

The next speaker was the CEOof JBG Smith, a Chevy Chase-based real estate investment firm, W. Matthew Kelly, who thanked local and state partners in creating this new chapter.

Warner, who resides in Alexandria, spoke next and said this entertainment district will be a “proverbial game changer.”

“If we are here cheering on this announcement, we have to realize that this is simply day one in the process,” Warner said. “Our job is to make sure that the nation, the neighborhoods that are adjacent … and other surrounding neighborhoods, feel engaged and know their quality of life will be protected so at the end of the day, their quality of life will actually be approved by this.”

Warner provided a cautionary celebration, recognizing there was a long journey ahead.

“We’re going to need to all go out and be missionaries into the community to make the case to hear people’s concerns – legitimate and otherwise – [then] come back and try to rectify those because with that effort, in a few short years, the kind of world class city … will become a reality, right here in Alexandria,” Warner said.

As Warner finished, a loud protester outside could be heard, making some heads turn in confusion.

Herring, one of four delegates in the Virginia State Legislature who represent Alexandria, was the last speaker of the event. She said she was excited about the potential positive impact of this project.

“It can be a major economic boom that will bolster our local businesses, create jobs and can help address many funding concerns by broadening our commercial tax base,” Herring said. “I’m encouraged that theconversations have taken place, not only about the project being a valuable economic engine for us, but also prioritizing our values as a community.”

Leonsis wanted $600 million from the District to fund improvements to Capital One, which is among the oldest housing an NBA or NHL franchise. Late Tuesday night, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser sent in an 11th-hour offer of $500 million if Monumental would agree to extend its lease at Capital One, which is due to expire in 2027.

What Alexandrians have to say

Many Alexandrians both online and outside the event, spoke their minds about the planned development.

Protestors making their disdain known for the new complex. (Photo/Ryan Hopper)

10-year Potomac Yard resident and protester at the event Moira Saucedo said she was frustrated the deal was agreed to quickly without local input.

“I think that’s part of the strategy. … You shock, people are left there scrambling, and then you move in and change it,” Saucedo said.

Another 10-year resident and protester, Adrien Lopez, said she was concerned about the noise the arena may create.

“We already have a huge amount of noise from the airplanes, right? All that noise pollution we’re dealing with, and you add on noise from an arena, it’s just unlivable,” Lopez said.

Many protesting residents, includingLopez and Saucedo, felt blindsided by this announcement since no public comment period was held about this project.

“We are going to fight against this because this is our community,” Saucedo said. “There was no advance notice, they haven’t asked us. It’s not only that we don’t like having it in the community, it’s the lack of transparency.”

“This was Wilson,” Lopez said. “He represents our community. I know he’s into development, but he represents us. This is Del Ray, the community that he’s from. He’s selling them out.”

“It doesn’t sound all that bad to me,” Jennifer C. wrote on Facebook. “It’s by the Metro, not more townhomes and will bring in tax revenue to the city. I would like to know more, but that’s my initial impression. That area is being built up regardless.”

Lisa P. agreed with Jennifer, writing this could potentially “soften the burden” on residents’ taxes.

“If the biggest downside is traffic, that probably tells you it’s a no-brainer to bring the arena … to the city,” David R. wrote on Facebook. “Jobs, residential, hotel stays, transit investments, restaurants, retail. These are all things the city wants. Compared to what’s there now? Most cities would murder for this opportunity.”

Mark W. wrote on Facebook this is a “destructive and impracticable” project.

“A valueless trophy project,” he wrote. “The latest malicious salvo that Wilson has fired at Alexandria.”

This is an ongoing story and the Times will continue its reporting on this issue.