Arena process lacks transparency

Arena process lacks transparency
(Graphic/Jessica Kim)

To the editor:

The ongoing saga surrounding the proposed $2 billion arena at Potomac Yard has reached a critical juncture, as recent investigations have shed light on the profound lack of transparency and accountability characterizing the deal’s negotiation process. Despite promises of economic revitalization and job creation, the secrecy surrounding the project’s documentation and the feasibility studies supporting it raises significant concerns over the project’s integrity and the stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s assertion that the project would be “good for the Virginia taxpayer” without upfront costs belies the reality of the situation. The proposed financing model – relying heavily on public funds to the tune of at least $1.5 billion, collected post-construction – places a considerable financial burden on taxpayers for a project whose benefits remain speculative at best. The fact that most public records related to the deal have been withheld from scrutiny only adds to the skepticism surrounding the project’s purported advantages.

The refusal to disclose key documents, including PowerPoint decks, letters, notes from meetings between the governor and Monumental Sports & Entertainment and emails pertaining to the deal, underlines a troubling lack of transparency. Such secrecy not only impedes public understanding and debate over the arena’s potential impacts but also contradicts principles of open governance and public accountability.

The unanimous approval of the deal by the Major Employment and Investment Project Approval Commission, in a session shrouded in secrecy and referred to as “Project Potter,” further exemplifies the opaque nature of the process. The withholding of meeting materials under the guise of legal non-requirement for disclosure is particularly disconcerting, given the significant financial commitments being made.

Economic analyses, such as the one released by the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, purport substantial economic benefits and job creation. However, the skepticism voiced by economists like J.C. Bradbury, who question the credibility of such projections and the overall efficacy of public investments in sports arenas, cannot be ignored. The history of stadium deals provides ample evidence of their questionable impact on local economies and the often unfulfilled promises of job creation and revenue generation.

The opposition from organized labor, citing a lack of necessary labor protections and the potential for creating more low-wage jobs, further complicates the arena’s prospects. Such concerns underscore the need for a project that not only promises but also delivers tangible benefits to the community, including fair labor practices and sustainable economic development.

The City of Alexandria’s reluctance to release complete documentation related to the project, claiming proprietary and confidential information, only exacerbates the transparency issues at hand. While Mayor Justin Wilson expresses frustration over the delays in releasing deal documents, the partial redactions in the Economic Impact Analysis do little to assuage concerns about the project’s validity.

In light of these revelations, the proposed Potomac Yard arena project appears fraught with unanswered questions, unaddressed concerns and a glaring lack of transparency. As the legislative session draws to a close, the urgency to scrutinize the deal and demand accountability from all parties involved has never been greater. The citizens of Virginia deserve a project that is not only financially sound but also transparent, equitable and beneficial to the community at large.

-Charlotte Achelois Scherer,  candidate for Alexandria City Council