News & Politics

Building a Wizards Practice Facility Is a Lot More Complex Than Ted Leonsis Thinks

A new training venue might be a "terrific community resource," but it's not as necessary as the Wizards' owner says.

Wizards owner Ted Leonsis watches Paul Pierce. Photograph by Flickr user Keith Allison.

Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis wasn’t planning on publicly addressing his team’s desire for a new practice facilty just yet, but after a series of “premature” reports, Leonsis writes on his website Monday that not only does the team need somewhere other than the Verizon Center to train, you’d be silly not to want it in your neighborhood.

The Wizards caused a bit of a stir November 7 when it was reported that the team was in conversation with District officials about building a taxpayer-funded practice facility in Shaw on the current site of a dog park, skate park, and urban farm. The proposed $30 million to $40 million facility would be paid for with an increase in sales taxes on Wizards tickets and Verizon Center concession sales. But city officials said the investment was worth it because it could induce players to move into the District during the NBA season.

Writing on his “Ted’s Take” blog, Leonsis says that price tag—and a suggestion that the Wizards’ practice facility will hold 5,000 spectators—is crazy talk, but he’s certain any self-interested community will want to be home to a new training center for John Wall and company.

“Recently there has been a flurry of reports, articles, tweets and commentary about our plans to build a Wizards training facility,” Leonsis writes. “Like many reports with unnamed sources and inappropriately leaked information, some of the data is good, some is only partially correct and others parts are simply false.”

Leonsis goes on to write that his company, Monumental Sports and Entertainment, is scouting locations in the District, Maryland, and Virginia as potential sites. But while he’s trying to tamp down the unbuilt facility’s rumored seating capacity, it sounds like there will be some room for spectators. Besides Wizards practices, Monumental wants the site to house the WNBA’s Washington Mystics and possibly a future NBA Developmental League squad.

But Leonsis has two bigger reasons why the Wizards need a practice spot separate from their arena: 18 other NBA teams have done it, and because it’s worked out so well for the Washington Capitals’ facility in Arlington.

“At this point I believe all of our Capitals players live in Virginia – we’ve even had players and coaches live close enough to walk to the training facility—and they along with our staff enjoy the Arlington area,” Leonsis writes. “They eat, shop, ride Metro and take advantage of all the great opportunities in the vicinity of Kettler. And the local area has seen tremendous growth in recent years.”

So would a new training facility, perhaps in Shaw, induce member of the Wizards’ roster to give up their suburban manses for downtown living? Wall could put his expansive Potomac spread on the market, and Marcin Gortat could flip that $1.6 million Arlington condo he just bought. And there are several condominum projects throughout DC that wil be ready to receive occupancy in 2016, just in time for Kevin Durant’s much-anticipated free agency.

The thing is, even if the Verizon Center seems dated next to other NBA teams’ practice facilities, 17 years of training in DC hasn’t affected where the Wizards’ players live during the season. And even though Arlington’s Ballston neighborhood has gotten some economic bounce since the Capitals opened their practice rink there in 2006, there’s already plenty of development throughout the area—in Shaw and elsewhere—that’s blossomed without a publicly financed basketball venue.

If anything, plopping down a training facility in the middle of any of these growing neighborhoods would push out established amenities. In the case of Shaw, users of the rumored spot at Rhode Island Avenue and 11th Street, Northwest, are already fearing the worst.

“It would be great if they were transparent and authentic,” says Frank Asher, who operates the Old City Farm and Guild. “A billionaire can come in and take it all down and have someone else pay for it? That part’s ridiculous.”

Leonsis writes that his desired practice facility—which would take between 18 months and two years to build—exists only as a set of “very rough renderings.” But he says it will be a “terrific community resource.”

The District is already suffering from a bit of unbuilt-sports-venue fatigue, though, with the plan for a DC United soccer stadium quaking under scrutiny of its projected costs to the city. Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser, already skeptical about the United stadium deal, only became aware of the Wizards’ proposal two weeks ago and is already cautious.

“She recognizes the Wizards have been an asset to the city in revitalizing downtown, but we have to make sure we’re protecting taxpayers in the process,” says her spokesman, Joaquin McPeek. “At the end of the day we need to know taxpayers are protected.”

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.