New coalition launches in protest of proposed arena

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New coalition launches in protest of proposed arena
Andrew Macdonald, a board member for the newly formed Coalition to Stop the Arena at Potomac Yard, delivering his remarks. (Photo/Caitlyn Meisner)
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By Caitlyn Meisner | cmeisner@alextimes.com

The Coalition to Stop the Arena at Potomac Yard held its first protest at the Potomac Yard-Virginia Tech Metro station Thursday morning, calling on Alexandria officials to decline the proposed new arena in the neighborhood. 

To a crowd of about 30 people – a mixture of around 20 protestors and the rest reporters – Andrew Macdonald, a board member of the Coalition and Alexandria’s former vice mayor, spoke first. He said the main concerns include government transparency, funding and the impact on the neighborhoods’ quality of life. 

“The community [is] extremely concerned about the traffic impacts,” Macdonald said. “We have a new Metro station here, but it doesn’t have the capacity to carry the number of people that it should. Even if it did, people are going to drive and there’s not going to be anywhere to park. … We know what’s going to happen: People are going to drive and go to the neighborhoods and park there.” 

As the wind whipped and the air became colder, Macdonald impassionedly stated that this arena is not necessary to Alexandria nor the Commonwealth of Virginia.

“There’s been this idea that it’s an arena or nothing. That’s not true,” Macdonald said. “There’s been years and years of planning to have other sorts of development here at Potomac Yard. We don’t need an arena to thrive. We feel very strongly that the arena should … absolutely stay in [Washington,] D.C.”

Shannon Curtis, another board member and Del Ray resident, said she was initially concerned about traffic, but increasingly became concerned about the economics. 

“We are really concerned about this promise that Gov. [Glenn Youngkin] keeps making and Mayor [Justin] Wilson that no taxpayer monies are going to go pay for this project,” Curtis said. “The problem is that tax revenue is taxpayer money that does not belong to the governor. It does not belong to the mayor. It does not belong to Ted Leonsis.” 

Curtis also said this development will not benefit the rest of the Commonwealth nor was the public given enough time to receive adequate answers to questions they have. 

“Nobody seems super willing to give us answers, especially before a very soon … January legislative session,” Curtis said. “That doesn’t give us a lot of time to give the input that we deserve.” 

Another resident, Dan Heng, recalled the legacy of former Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals owner, Abe Pollin.

“Pollin built a palace for the Wizards and the Capitals to play in, and [his] legacy is being tarnished by Leonsis,” Heng said. “They are leaving [Chinatown] worse off if they leave for Alexandria.”

Heng raised the question: “What happens when [Leonsis] or his successors decide that this arena isn’t good enough for him in 20, 25, 10 years?”

Ronald Moten of Don’t Mute D.C., an activism group created in 2019, spoke in favor of keeping the two sports franchises in Chinatown. 

“Why would we put this hardship on another community without thoroughly looking at this to make sure it can happen?” Moten said. “You have my city build a $65 million [arena], and then years later you tell us it’s not good enough. … I think you better think twice.” 

Moten is referring to the Entertainment and Sports Arena, a multi-purpose events facility located on the St. Elizabeth’s East Campus in the Congress Heights neighborhood of the District of Columbia. It was officially opened in September 2018 and is home to the Washington Mystics. The arena was built by Leonsis’ company, Monumental Sports & Entertainment, in conjunction with the district government. 

 

Ronald Moten of Don’t Mute D.C. spoke in favor of keeping the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals in the district. (Photo/Caitlyn Meisner)

A district resident and member of the Capitals Fan Club, Howard Marks, said he hopes Leonsis reveals economic information to the loyal fanbase of both teams. Mike Vito, another district resident and 15-year Capitals season ticket holder, said he was concerned about the influx of people at the Potomac Yard Metro station at each event.

“You can come from anywhere, on any line [of the Metro], get off and walk and get to [Capital One Arena],” Vito said. “Here, we have two lines … I would love to see everybody come on a Friday night to show what the traffic would be like.” 

In the question-and-answer section of the protest, Macdonald made it clear this type of development was never in the plans for Potomac Yard. 

“I know because I was on City Council,” Macdonald said. “It’s important for us to be concerned about our neighbors … Washington, D.C. does need to keep the team.” 

Macdonald was a two-term Councillor from 2003 to 2006, then served as vice mayor before his resignation in May 2007. 

He and Curtis expressed frustration with the public engagement process, stating Council should have made this public beforehand. 

“What we want … to have is an independent evaluation of the impact of this project, both good and bad,” Macdonald said. “The question shouldn’t be, ‘How do we make this work?’ The question should’ve been, ‘Do we want to make this work at all?’ And that’s just never been asked.” 

Curtis said in an interview with the Times she hoped the taxpayer money being used to fund this project would instead be used on public works projects around the city. 

“I think all of the basic ones that you would consider: Funding for our schools, maintaining our roads, parks and recreation, infrastructure … even government operations,” Curtis said. “Paying for an arena, every dollar there is a dollar that is not put toward today’s projects.” 

Scott Bailey, an 11-year Potomac Yard resident, showed up in protest of the development. He said if this was to pass, he would move out of the neighborhood. 

“What the city had told us was going to happen here … they’ve never followed through,” Bailey said. “No one has approached Potomac Yard [residents]. This is our backyard.”

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