D.C., Wizards to Announce Deal on Practice Facility in Southeast

The District and the Washington Wizards will announce plans Wednesday to build a $55 million sports and entertainment arena in Ward 8, the poorest ward in the city.

The project on the grounds of the old St. Elizabeths Hospital could spur more economic development, but there also are concerns about crime in nearby neighborhoods.

The Washington Wizards have practiced and played at the Verizon Center for almost 20 years, but the team has wanted a new, state-of-the-art practice facility and was looking both in the city and suburbs.

Mayor Muriel Bowser will announce the city will build the new practice facility, including a 5,000-seat arena, near the Congress Heights Metro stop in southeast Washington along Alabama Avenue. The $55 million complex will be funded largely by the city, according to Bowser's administration, which negotiated the deal.

Events DC, the city's quasi-public stadium authority, which is funded by hotel and restaurant taxes, will pay $27 million to build the facility, and the district government will contribute $23 million in funding that was already slated for redevelopment of the city-owned site.

D.C. Council members must approve the deal. During a courtesy meeting Tuesday in Prince George's County, several council members said they weren't consulted in advance and need to see how it affects taxpayers and city finances.

“I think it's an intriguing proposition, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the details are,” D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said.

“I understand the value of sports, but we have to make sure it's a good deal for the city,” at-large Council member Elissa Silberman said.

Ward 8 Council member LaRuby May says the project will jump start economic development in her ward and downplayed concerns about crime east of the Anacostia River.

“What's going to be important for me is that we are going to have smart economic development,” she said.

Bowser said the project would create 300 permanent jobs and 600 construction jobs and bring in $90 million in new tax revenue over 20 years.

“This is a huge win for the District and another sign that Washington, D.C., is a city on the move,” Bowser said in a statement.

The Washington Mystics would use the new facility for its home court, and players said they are excited.

The practice facility would be owned by Events DC and leased to Wizards and Mystics owner Ted Leonsis through his company, Monumental Sports and Entertainment. Leonsis will chip in $5 million for construction costs and another $10 million for “redevelopment and community philanthropic investments” at the St. Elizabeths site. The facility is slated to open in the fall of 2018.

“We look forward to working together to build a best-in-class Wizards and Mystics training facility and a fantastic new home venue for Mystics games,” Leonsis said in a statement.

The city hopes to open the new facility in late 2018.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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