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Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson speaks at the announcement of a new arena for the Washington Wizards and Capitals in Potomac Yard in Alexandria, Dec. 13, 2023 (staff photo by James Cullum)

In the wake of Alexandria backing out of the $2 billion Potomac Yard arena deal, Mayor Justin Wilson says that “very little will likely change in North Potomac Yard for quite some time.”

In his April newsletter, Wilson said that last week’s announcement that the city was leaving the negotiating table signaled “perhaps the most negative financial event for our schools, public safety and human services in recent history.”

The implosion of the arena deal marked the end of more than three months of negotiations between Washington Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, Governor Glenn Youngkin, the Virginia General Assembly and the city. A House of Delegates bill creating a Virginia Stadium Authority to own the arena and issue bonds never got out of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and was never included in the legislature’s budget.

Now, with the city out of the deal, Leonsis is back in D.C. with a deal that will keep his teams playing at the Capital One Arena until at least 2050.

Wilson said that, if property taxes are to be lowered for residents in the future, the city needs to look elsewhere for large-scale developments.

“Regardless of your perspective on the North Potomac Yard proposal, it held the potential to dramatically reshape Alexandria’s economy, easing the burden on our residential taxpayers and enabling expanded investment in critical services to our residents, as well as yielding new land for a school, open space and committed affordable housing,” Wilson wrote.

Wilson’s full message is below:

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Alexandria City Council members and candidates are opening up about their positions on the city backing out of the Potomac Yard arena deal.

Mayor Justin Wilson said that the city will be spending a lot of time unpacking what led to the announcement that it was backing out of a plan to move the Washington Wizards and Capitals from D.C. to a new arena with an entertainment district in the city’s Potomac Yard neighborhood.

The deal is now a historic defeat, joining the failed attempt in the 1990s to build a stadium for the Washington Redskins (now Washington Commanders) at Potomac Yard.

“We’ll spend some time unpacking all of this,” Wilson told ALXnow. “But in the end, this proposal got caught up in some powerful politics in Richmond. Now, as a result of those very same politics, some very significant priorities of Alexandria are very vulnerable in Richmond. That’s a shame.”

Wilson said those components of the state budget include funding for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, education and public safety. Wilson was enthusiastic about the deal since it was announced Dec. 13, remaining steadfast in his support of its economic potential until yesterday’s announcement. Wilson is currently vacationing with his family and has been responding to the situation from Greece.

“Gun legislation has already been vetoed, and I imagine many, many vetoes to go,” Wilson said.

All of City Council sat on stage alongside Wilson, Governor Glenn Youngkin and Monumental Sports & Entertainment owner Ted Leonsis at the surprise announcement on Dec. 13 in Potomac Yard. Youngkin characterized the move as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, wanting the arena to open next door to the Potomac Yard Metro station in 2028.

The $2 billion project stalled in the Democrat-controlled Virginia State Senate, held up by Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Louise Lucas, who refused to include it in the state budget. This week, Lucas said that Leonsis could pay for the entire project himself instead of relying on $1.5 billion in bond financing from Virginia taxpayers.

Former Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg joined the Coalition to Stop the Arena at Potomac Yard in Richmond to protest the move during the General Assembly’s session earlier this month. She said that the city backing out of the deal was a great relief.

“The financial risks were terrible for the Commonwealth and our city, as well as the traffic impacts that would have overwhelmed our city over 275 nights a year,” Silberberg said. “I hope the city will now focus its economic development vision on more compatible uses for this property. As I have said often since 2018, I envision a tech corridor with the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus as the anchor and catalyst in addition to mixed use development.”

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Virginia State Sen. Louise Lucas (D-18) says Monumental Sports and Entertainment owner Ted Leonsis can afford to pay for the entire $2 billion Potomac Yard arena project, as well as supporting transportation and other associated infrastructure projects.

“Anything having to do with enriching billionaires, they need to pay for themselves,” Lucas told ALXnow. “They can proffer anything they want to. They can build the arena and make a profit. They could complete the roads and also provide the perennial upkeep.”

Lucas continued, “A lot of people who are doing developments they do proffers and they take care of the roads. They offer to take care of schools, they offer to take care of other things. This is rich people still wanting to get rich without paying for it.”

Lucas said that she was blindsided by news in December that Virginia’s Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin reached a deal with Monumental Sports and Entertainment owner Ted Leonsis to move the Washington Capitals and Wizards from D.C. to a new arena in Alexandria’s Potomac Yard neighborhood. She said that the deal was presented in such a rush that the legislature didn’t have time to vet the plan, or even thoroughly understand it.

“I mean, all the nuances of a project that major, you need more than a day of somebody telling you this is what we’re doing, we’ve already made the announcement and here we go,” Lucas said.

Lucas is president pro tempore of the Virginia State Senate, and, as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, refused to let the approved House version of the arena bill out of her committee and into the state budget, effectively stopping it from landing on the Governor’s desk for approval.

Youngkin held a press conference earlier this month where he called the Senate’s budget a colossal mistake.

“I believe the Senate is about to make a colossal mistake,” Youngkin said. “We came together over many months to represent the very best interests of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and to do it in a way that could put Virginia in the position for a big win in the Commonwealth.”

Youngkin called the arena a one-of-a-kind financial opportunity for Virginia and Alexandria.

“I’m an optimist,” said Youngkin. “A true optimist. I will never stop fighting for Virginia’s success. I believe our Senate and General Assembly have a chance to stand up and do what’s right. They have a chance to assess this one-of-a-kind, first-of-its-kind, opportunity on its merits. It befuddles me that we’re not spending today talking about how to deliver it and we’re instead trying to convince our General Assembly to do what’s right.” Read More

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(Left to right) Virginia Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-39), Del. Charniele Herring (D-46), Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-3) and Del. Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (D-45) speak at the Chamber ALX Legislative Breakfast at the Hilton Old Town, March 21, 2024 (staff photo by James Cullum)

Virginia House Majority Leader Del. Charniele Herring (D-46) said that the $2 billion Potomac Yard arena deal is in no man’s land and that she doesn’t see a path forward for it.

Herring, who voted yes in the House of Delegates version of the arena bill last month, criticized Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s handling of the issue. She was joined this morning by members of Northern Virginia’s delegation to the General Assembly at the Chamber ALX’s legislative breakfast.

Herring said that without “proper” financing of transportation and other infrastructure issues that she didn’t see a deal happening.

“As I see it today, I just don’t see it happening,” Herring said. “Unless there’s some sort of movement or some other discussions happening.”

The project to move the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals to a new entertainment district in Potomac Yard was dealt a decisive blow earlier this month when the state legislature refused to include it in its fiscal year 2025 budget.

Herring criticized Youngkin for conducting press conferences on the arena issue instead of negotiating with members of the General Assembly.

“He needs to be sitting down with legislators who ultimately are going to make that decision, not having rallies around the state with press conferences,” Herring said. “It does nobody any good.”

The statements follow recent news that Monumental Sports & Entertainment owner Ted Leonsis reportedly spoke with Maryland Governor Wes Moore about moving the arena to Maryland.

Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-3) said that Youngkin has not engaged in negotiations with members of the General Assembly.

“It’s sort of been a ‘my way or the highway’ sort of thing,” Lopez said. “The governor hasn’t negotiated, really. He hasn’t really been involved in getting in the weeds with the folks in the State Senate and State House.”

Lopez continued, “I want to get to yes, on this project. I want to see this project work. We just need to make sure that everyone’s at the table, that the governors at the table, that we can actually negotiate on some of the broader policy issues and get to what we need to see, especially about transportation/transit, especially about Metro.”

Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-39) said that the project is dead and that without a bill to work with, Youngkin has to start over legislatively. He also said that the makeup of the proposed Virginia Stadium Authority board, which would own and finance the arena, needs more representation from Alexandria.

City Council Member John Taylor Chapman said that the city needs a stronger partnership with the General Assembly.

“What transportation, housing and small business funding will they be working to bring to the city once they let this fail in Richmond?” Chapman said.

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Rendering of concert venue at Monumental Arena development (image courtesy of JBG SMITH)

(Updated at 12:05 p.m.) The Virginia House of Delegates on Friday printed an updated version of the bill establishing the Virginia Stadium Authority, which would own and finance construction of the $2 billion Potomac Yard arena and entertainment district.

While the Senate version of the bill is still in the Senate Committee on Finance and Appropriations, the House version stipulates that a 15-member Virginia Stadium Authority board would be made up of:

  • Five members appointed by the governor
  • Two non-legislative members appointed by the House speaker
  • Three members from the Senate Rules Committee
  • Three members appointed by the Alexandria City Council
  • One member representing Arlington
  • One member representing Monumental Sports, the owner of the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals

Alexandria City Council members were unanimously unhappy with the previous House version of the bill, which called for a nine-member Authority board, with six members appointed by the governor and three from Alexandria. The Council wants more city representation.

“We will continue to work through the legislative process to get legislation that works for Alexandria,” said Mayor Justin Wilson. “We have a ways to go before this goes to the governor’s desk.”

Additionally, the House bill also creates oversight of the Virginia Stadium Authority with a 14-member “The Sports and Entertainment Authority Oversight Commission.” The commission members include the Virginia House speaker, the president pro tempore of the Virginia Senate and 12 delegates on the Major Employment and Investment (MEI) Project Approval Commission.

City Council Member Kirk McPike said that on one hand, the governor isn’t appointing a majority of the board anymore, which he said is a “step in the right direction.”

“But I still want to see more representation for the City,” McPike said. “Whatever bills make it to the other chamber at crossover (when they are considered by the other legislative body) will change significantly in the second half of the session, and the City will continue to work to ensure we have as strong a voice as possible on the potential stadium authority board.”

Alexandria Vice Mayor Amy Jackson agreed with her colleagues, and also agreed with Virginia President Pro tempore Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-18), who tweeted on Feb. 10 that the bill is not on the Senate Finance and Appropriations docket because it is “not ready for prime time.”

“I agree with Wilson and McPike,” Jackson said. “I also agree with Senator Lucas, who said ‘We have a ways to go.'”

City Council Member Canek Aguirre doesn’t like the proposed makeup of the stadium authority.

“Not a fan of the new makeup, but will continue to work with the General Assembly to get something that works for Alexandria,” Aguirre said.

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Rendering of concert venue at Monumental Arena development (image courtesy of JBG SMITH)

If Alexandria’s tentative deal to see a sports arena and entertainment district built in north Potomac Yard, it must include a rehabilitation and renovation fund, Mayor Justin Wilson said Monday night.

Wilson told the Alexandria Democratic Committee that the agreement, which is still in its initial planning stages with Monumental Sports, needs a funding source to account for the wear and tear that time and throngs of annual visitors will have on the arena and numerous planned amenities. The renovation fund is included in Alexandria’s deal with Monumental Sports.

Wilson said that no such rehabilitation and renovation fund was included in D.C.’s deal with Monumental Sports when the Capital One Arena in D.C. opened in 1997. He also said that it was no accident that D.C. recently approved a fund to maintain Nationals Park.

“I’ve gotten a lot of emails about a lot of bad sports deals around the country, and I think we have tried to use those as a lesson,” Wilson said. “One of the things that I think we’ve tried to learn really from some sports deals here in this region is first of all, obviously having a long term lease, having relocation provisions that prevent the team from going away.”

Wilson said one of the lessons is not repeating the Capital One Arena mistake.

“What happened in Capital One, which open the year I graduated high school, and I’m not that old, was that there was never any funding source or funding plan for how to renovate and rehabilitate an arena over time,” Wilson said.

On transportation, Wilson said congestion at the arena will be lessened by patrons using thousands of available parking spaces at neighboring Metro station parking lots and arriving via Metro and shuttle buses.

The deal is projected to generate 30,000 jobs in Alexandria, as well as bring in the Monumental Sports headquarters with about 600 professional employees, the arena itself that would house the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals, a practice facility, concert venue, television studios, hotels and apartments.

“A big part of the vision is how to use those spaces as a way to get people into the area and then use transit in different ways to get people on to the site for events,” he said. “We’ll have a lot more planning to go as we as we determine whether this use is compatible.”

Wilson also said that one of the advantages of the arena property being owned by the Virginia Stadium Authority is that if the teams decide to relocate at the end of the 40-year lease, the facility would be owned by the city.

“We could knock down and build something else,” Wilson said. “We would have the resources as well as the ownership and control of the property to be able to do what the community would like to do.”

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