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Virginia officials announce a major deal to bring Capitals and Wizards to Potomac Yard

 A rendering of the proposed arena where the Wizards and Capitals would play in Alexandria.
A rendering of the proposed arena where the Wizards and Capitals would play in Alexandria.

Read the original story on WAMU/DCist's website.

Monumental Sports and Entertainment and Virginia officials gathered at a press conference Wednesday morning to announce a deal that to move the Washington Wizards and Capitals from D.C.’s Capital One Arena to a new complex to be built in Alexandria’s Potomac Yard.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin was joined by Monumental owner Ted Leonsis and state and local lawmakers at the event, held near the Potomac Yard Metro station, the site of the planned development.

The mood at the press conference was reminiscent of a team’s locker room after a big win–celebratory, joyful, and filled with backslapping.

Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson was also enthusiastic, noting the entire Alexandria City Council was by his side on stage. The Democrat even thanked the Republican governor for his leadership and continued support.

By my math, as I thought about this, in the past five years, we’ve welcomed four current or past Virginia governors to this site,” Wilson said. “And each time we’ve done that, we have been inviting and announcing something that is transformational for our city’s future. And today is no exception.”

He did acknowledge the potential for pushback from local residents, who may be concerned about pressure on real estate prices, traffic, and lack of resources for other priorities.

“We will engage with our residents and make sure their voices are heard in this process to ensure that everyone in this city will benefit from this investment,” he said.

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner acknowledged the deal had been in the works for “literally seven or eight months.”

At the press conference, Leonsis said Potomac Yard was attractive because of the amount of land, the many transportation options — including the new Metro station — and development already on the way. He also said the move from D.C. doesn’t mean Monumental is abandoning Capital One Arena or its commitment to downtown D.C. as an economic driver.

But Leonsis confirmed the project and the teams moving from D.C. to Alexandria is all but a done deal, provided everything sticks to the script.

“Our moving here, if all of this goes as planned, we will still be a big, big part of the entire DMV. That is our goal. That is our commitment.

The deal is a big win for Virginia and a major blow to the District, which was in negotiations to keep the teams downtown.

Details released ahead of the press conference describe a $2 billion public-private partnership for a massive 9-million-square-foot sports and entertainment district on 70 acres in the Potomac Yard neighborhood of Alexandria. Plans include a concert venue, retail, restaurants, a Monumental Sports Network media studio, a Wizards practice facility, and an “industry-leading” arena for both the Wizards and Capitals.

The goal is to break ground on the development and have the teams playing in the new venue by 2028. They would remain at Capital One arena for the next four seasons.

Officials at the press conference confirmed a deal was in the works for months, and Youngkin said he first discussed with Leonsis the possibility of a sports and entertainment complex coming to Alexandria “years ago.” He recalled his own experience on the court in describing how this deal came together.

Now, I spent most of my time on the basketball court and not [on] the ice rink,” Youngkin said. “And I found that the heart of any team is one thing, and that will always remain the same. Teamwork, working together.”

Any final deal will require approval by the Virginia General Assembly and the Alexandria City Council. Some lawmakers have said they want to see details before supporting the plan, but the development would be a significant victory for Virginia and will likely secure bipartisan support.

A rendering of a proposed entertainment district that could be coming to Potomac Yard.
Rendering of the proposed entertainment district coming to Potomac Yard.

The announcement comes just days after Virginia lawmakers, including soon-to-depart state Sen. Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D–Fairfax) and state Sen. George Barker (D–Alexandria), approved a development proposal for Potomac Yard to include a sports arena, hotel, convention center, an underground parking garage, and $200 million in transportation improvements, built on land controlled by real estate developer JBG Smith.

Exact details of the deal are still being unveiled, including what financial incentives Virginia and Alexandria are offering Monumental. On Wednesday morning, Virginia Secretary of Finance Stephen Cummings said in a press release that “all project investments backed by the Commonwealth and the City will be paid back in full by incremental project revenues; there is no upfront investment by the Commonwealth and no existing taxes or tax increases are a part of this financing plan.”

Some lawmakers expressed opposition to public financing for a sports complex. On Tuesday night, Del. Marcus Simon (D–Fairfax) tweeted that he had been told the deal wouldn’t use state money and would not impact Virginia or Alexandria’s debt capacity, and that it would need to be a “true win-win” to earn his support.

The proposal lawmakers voted for on Monday initially was couched as a first step towards attracting the teams to move to Alexandria, but it turned out to be one huge leap.

It’s clear a deal was already well underway because less than 48 hours later, the Wizards and Capitals appear poised to leave the D.C. arena they called home for 26 years and move to the Commonwealth.

It was also just last month the Washington Post first reported that Monumental Sports was asking D.C. for $600 million to renovate Capital One Arena in Chinatown. Negotiations were reportedly underway between Mayor Muriel Bowser and Monumental to keep the teams in the District, and a number of D.C. councilmembers characterized it as vital to the economic health of the city.

On Tuesday night, Bowser and the D.C. Council made clear they were not ready to be counted out just yet, unveiling joint legislation offering Monumental Sports a $500 million financing deal for a “complete renovation” of the downtown arena. Mayor Bowser and D.C. lawmakers will hold a press conference Wednesday morning to respond to the news, but in a press release on Tuesday Bowser made a final pitch:

“This proposal represents our best and final offer and is the next step in partnering with Monumental Sports to breathe new life and vibrancy into the neighborhood and to keep the Washington Wizards and the Washington Capitals where they belong – in Washington, D.C.”

D.C.'s Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto, who represents the neighborhood around Capital One Arena, also weighed in, saying she fully supports the proposal.

“It’s imperative that our D.C. teams stay right here at home in Washington D.C.,” she wrote in a statement. “We will keep fighting.”

Monumental Sports still owns Capital One Arena and would not completely abandon the venue if the two pro sports teams move. They announced their commitment to “updating” the arena and returning the WNBA’s Washington Mystics downtown. The 2019 WNBA champions moved from the arena to their current home, the Entertainment & Sports Arena in Congress Heights, in 2018. (That venue would remain open as the home of the G League’s Capital City Go-Go.)

Monumental says they plan to renovate Capital One Arena into a slightly smaller, more “flexible” arena, with a seating capacity of 10,000 to 20,000 people. It would continue to host concerts, shows, college basketball, and other events.

“The Monumental team would be able to secure more family shows and accommodate annual bookings and mini-residencies that require long-term planning, which is currently not possible with the seasonal changes from the NBA and NHL’s game schedules,” Monumental Sports said in a press release.

The loss of the two pro sports teams would be a serious setback for Mayor Bowser, who had put the renovation of Capital One Arena at the center of plans to revitalize a struggling downtown. Her office declined to comment on the developments beyond the joint legislation press release Tuesday night. It’s also unknown what if any, financial deal the District would be prepared to offer Monumental to update Capital One Arena if the teams leave.

The Virginia “mini-city” development would become the hub for Monumental Sports, offering the chance to house practice facilities, team offices, and other amenities in one location near the new Potomac Yard Metro stop.

In recent years, Monumental has expanded into the buildings surrounding the downtown arena, including a new esports venue and a state-of-the-art production studio. But the plan is to expand further to include more production studios, practice facilities, and company headquarters. With that, there’s a need for more space.

A multicolored map that shows where a proposed arena and other pieces of development could go in Potomac Yard.
A site map showing where the arena and other development would go in Potomac Yard.

“Our business needs have changed dramatically since our current arena opened in 1997. We are a multi-faceted sports and entertainment enterprise with teams, venues, and media networks,” Lenosis writes in the press release. “And, with this public-private partnership with the Commonwealth of Virginia, the City of Alexandria, and JBG SMITH, we anticipate an even more dynamic future.”

Officials are expecting to provide more details at the Wednesday press conference, including agreement details, cost, other financial aspects, and what comes next. After today’s announcement, lawmakers in both Richmond and Alexandria will need to approve portions of the deal, including development plans and financial incentives, such as tax breaks and financing.

A proposed rendering of a promenade as part of a potential entertainment district that could be coming to Potomac Yard.
for ILLUSTRATIVE purposes
Rendering of the proposed promenade as part of the potential entertainment district coming to Potomac Yard

This post has been updated with additional details shared by officials. 

Matt Blitz is a producer for WAMU in Washington, D.C.