Time to look ahead

Time to look ahead
A mockup of the Monumental Sports & Entertainment performing arts venue in Potomac Yard. (Rendering/JBG Smith)

When the bombshell announcement was made in December 2023 that Ted Leonsis was moving the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals to a new arena in Alexandria’s Potomac Yard neighborhood, our thoughts immediately turned to former Mayor Patsy Ticer.

For the uninitiated, back in 1992, Ticer successfully led the effort to block former Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke from moving the football team to a new planned stadium in Potomac Yard. The backroom deal negotiated between then- Gov. Doug Wilder and Cooke initially made the plan seem inevitable. But, it ultimately crumbled in the face of adamant local opposition.

Ticer, already beloved in this city, became regionally and even nationally known for her feisty stand against the stadium.

Sometimes history repeats itself in eerily similar ways.

Even as Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis stood inside a cozy tent on Dec. 13, 2023, with Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson, Alexandria Economic Development Partnership President and CEO Stephanie Landrum and other leaders to announce the deal to build a sports and entertainment district in Alexandria, a group opposed to the plan stood outside in the cold and protested.

Former Vice Mayor Andrew Macdonald, who co-founded the Coalition to Stop the Arena at Potomac Yard, spoke against the arena proposal that frigid day while self-congratulations filled the tent. The Coalition’s main objections centered around the environmental harm, economic burdens and traffic nightmare that would come from the proposed arena – adjacent to wetlands – slated to hold events three out of four days per year.

The proposal likely would have still passed despite vocal opposition from a large swath of Alexandrians if State Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) hadn’t blocked it.

While Lucas voiced an array of objections to the proposal, what she made crystal clear is that concessions from Youngkin on two issues important to her – toll relief for her constituents and a state-regulated marketplace for cannabis – would be necessary for her to let the arena legislation be considered on the Senate floor.

It’s worth noting that Lucas stood to financially benefit from the cannabis bill, had Youngkin signed it, as she co-owns a retail store called “The Cannabis Outlet,” which opened in 2021 after Virginia legalized the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for adults 21 or older. The next year, the Virginia Mercury ran a story saying Lucas’ shop sold mislabeled products that were not legal under existing law.

With the duel announcements last week that Alexandria is no longer pursuing the arena and that Leonsis has reached a deal with Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to keep his sports teams in the District, it’s now time to consider what’s next for Potomac Yard.

The original impetus for the Potomac Yard Metro when discussions began approximately 25 years ago was that it would lure office space to the site. With the concept of new office space now an anachronism, the city must turn to other concepts.

Many Alexandria residents spoke loudly these past few months, as in 1992, that they don’t want a sports arena within our city limits. We have faith that, even if it takes time, Potomac Yard will eventually be redeveloped into something better than a sports arena – and that what’s built will better match the values of city residents.