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Delegates push forward Glenn Youngkin’s arena plan

Dels. Sickles and Torian chat
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Del. Mark Sickles of Fairfax listens to Del. Luke Torian, D–Prince William, as the House Appropriations Committee hears HB 1514 on Feb. 9, 2024. It establishes the Virginia Sports and Entertainment Authority charged with financing the construction of a new arena in Alexandria

Virginia Democrats have put their mark on the Northern Virginia proposal.

Virginia delegates voted to forward a heavily amended plan of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s to create a government authority for a professional sports arena in Alexandria — just after a key Democrat denied the plan a hearing in the state Senate.

Youngkin wants to create a quasi-governmental authority to back a development anchored by an arena primarily for Monumental Sports and Entertainment, which owns the professional Washington Capitals and Wizards sports teams.

According to the administration, the project would create 30,000 new jobs. Real estate firm JBG Smith can redevelop the Potomac Yard area, but the project before state legislators would see higher rates of economic impact and job creation than current trends, according to the plan’s boosters.

Youngkin included the plan as part of his two-year budget proposal. Democrats took the language and created stand-alone legislation, hearing it Friday for the first time in the eleventh hour. (The General Assembly’s crossover is set for Tuesday.)

The new authority would be able to issue debt that is to be paid back using tax revenue from the development and private sources.

The house Appropriations Committee votes on HB 1514
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
The House Appropriations Committee votes to advance HB 1514 to the floor on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024 in Richmond.

The House Appropriations Committee version puts more legislative oversight and reporting requirements than what Youngkin proposed, and it includes a provision requiring it to be heard again in 2025. The language, known as a reenactment clause, gives legislators more time to consider the issue. The opportunity also provides a political lever for Democrats if Youngkin were to veto high-priority legislation of theirs.

Then, on Monday state Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D–Portsmouth) said she was using her “prerogative” as chair of the Virginia Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee to keep the bill off the docket.

“The Governor's proposed deal has many unanswered questions and potential conflicts of interest,” said Lucas. The president pro tempore also said the proposal puts too much risk on Virginia’s finances and mentioned comments Youngkin made and published over the weekend attacking Democrats during project negotiations.

“This Democrat is not conceding to a half-baked ‘Glenn dome’ at that compromises the Commonwealth's financial position for his billionaire friends,” Lucas told the committee.

While Lucas’s action meant the bill is highly unlikely to succeed in that chamber, the House’s vote keeps it alive.

“We are encouraged by the momentum from Friday when the House bill passed,” said Monica Dixon, chief administrative officer of Monumental Sports and Entertainment, in a request for comment on Lucas’ stance. “We are eager to work with the lawmakers in Richmond to provide all information they might need to feel comfortable about this deal.”

Macdonald gets ready to speak
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Andrew Macdonald gets ready to address the House Appropriations Committee in opposition to HB 1514 on Friday, Feb. 9 in Richmond.

The floor vote Monday morning was by voice vote, after the committee had sent the amended bill to the House floor on a 17–3 vote. But there was still vocal opposition from Alexandria residents at Friday's hearing.

“We feel that there's a great likelihood at the end of this, at some point, taxpayers will end up owing something — and it'll be Virginia taxpayers,” said Andrew Macdonald, a former vice-mayor of Alexandria who spoke against the project Friday.

Macdonald said he hoped if the General Assembly couldn’t prevent the bill’s passage, lawmakers would include a local referendum to approve the project.

Legislators and others have also raised concerns about the proposal’s transportation infrastructure, which would also include housing and a performing arts venue. A transport study said the campus would need between $135 million and $215 in transportation improvements to accommodate the development.

Spokespeople for Youngkin didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Jahd Khalil covers local government, the economy and labor issues for VPM News. Previously, he covered state government for RadioIQ and was a freelance journalist based in Egypt.