A group of Alexandrians and activists from the neighboring suburb — Washington D.C. — rallied outside of the Potomac Yard Metro station this afternoon, protesting the proposal to bring the Washington Capitals and Wizards to a new arena on the site.
The Coalition to Stop the Arena at Potomac Yard held the rally with around 20 protestors and half as many local reporters.
“The idea that it’s an arena or nothing, that’s not true,” said former Vice Mayor Andrew Macdonald. “We don’t need an arena to thrive.”
Concerns from residents range from the project’s transportation impact — Metro GM Randy Clarke said the nearby Metro station is insufficient to handle the transit demands of the site — to uncertainty about the financial benefits.
“The transportation concerns are insurmountable,” said Shannon Curtis, a nearby resident and part of the Coalition. “Forcing people into public transit is laudable, but the reality is most people will drive here… It will create a traffic boondoggle.”
The Alexandria Economic Development Partnership (AEDP) released a summary of a report commissioned by HR&A advisors describing the economic benefits of the project, but AEDP did not respond to questions about when the full report would be made public. From what was released, some said there is uncertainty about the way some of the findings are reported and the validity of a study commissioned by AEDP.
“Local officials are reminding me of anti-vaxxers,” Curtis said. “They’re relying on one hired gun they paid for answers they want to hear. There’s no transparency.”
“This is a bad financial deal,” Macdonald said. “It’s bad for the city. It’s bad for Virginia.”
In December, Mayor Justin Wilson said the financing structure would have three sources: the city and the state taking portions of tax revenue coming from the development to pay off the loans used for construction and private funding from Ted Leonsis.
Dan Heng, a local resident, noted that the city and state will be paying off the stadium for 40 years, which means the city and state will be on the hook for paying for the stadium even if Leonsis decides to leave in 10 or 20 years.
Others said they were concerned about crime created by the new arena.
“I’m concerned about more crime,” said local resident Barbara Haley. “Nobody is talking about plans to mitigate crime. I would like to see a plan, but they don’t have one. Nobody is talking about it.”
The project has also created an uproar across the Potomac River. Ronald Moten, an activist in Washington D.C., said the project won’t benefit Potomac Yard more than other development would, but will rip the economic engine out of Chinatown.
“Everything that glitters is not gold,” Moten said. “The owner came to D.C., the city spent $65 million [on the arena] to spark growth, and then he left my city hanging.”
Moten said the Chinatown area has the transit access and infrastructure, as well as regional parking, that Potomac Yard lacks.
Moten also pointed back to the departure of Capitals Head Coach Barry Trotz as a telling example of deals with Leonsis.
“This is greed,” Moten said. “This is the owner who has the Capitals, whose head coach asked for a raise after winning the Stanley Cup, and they fired him. This is who you’re dealing with.”
Though it might not be at the same scale as other concerns, Capitals Fan Club member Howard Marks said he was concerned ticket prices would go up — though AEDP Chair Stephanie Landrum said at the announcement that ticket prices may actually decrease with the move due to different taxes in Virginia.
“There’s a surcharge tax on tickets, concessions, and parking to pay for these bonds,” Marks said. “Reveal to fans how much this will cost in fares.”
Macdonald said the looming fight is in the Virginia General Assembly. Despite bipartisan support from local and state leaders at the Potomac Yard arena announcement, delegates and state senators in both parties have expressed doubts about the project.
“We call upon all of the General Assembly to not approve this project,” Macdonald said.
PR firm Jasper Advisors reached out to ALXnow with a joint statement from Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the Commonwealth of Virginia, the City of Alexandria, and JBG SMITH, saying:
We are at the beginning of a process to share the vision to build a world-class Entertainment District and engage with the Alexandria community and listen to their feedback. Alexandria residents are rightfully proud of their city and can be assured we will listen to the needs and concerns of the community. Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the Commonwealth of Virginia, the City of Alexandria, and JBG SMITH look forward to partnering with community members in Alexandria and fans across the Greater Washington Area to bring to life a collective vision for Potomac Yard and create exceptional experiences and regional economic growth for decades to come.
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