News & Politics

DC Sports Authority May Pay for Most of Wizards Practice Facility

Photograph by Flickr user Keith Allison.

The board that oversees the District’s sports and convention venues will vote this afternoon on what would be a sweet deal for Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis: A way for taxpayers to pay for most of a $56 million practice arena for the team.

Mayor Muriel Bowser and Leonsis have agreed on a deal; someone familiar with the deal told the Washington PostBowser’s economic development team is likely to contribute the needed land for the project and less than half of the cost of the building itself.”

The board of Events DC—a semi-autonomous agency that owns and manages the convention center and Nationals Park—is scheduled to vote this afternoon to contribute $32.5 million toward construction of the facility. The 118,000-square-feet, 5,000-seat arena would be located near the Congress Heights Metro stop on property that once belonged to St. Elizabeths Hospital.

Events DC’s share of this will come from the treasure chest it has built by collecting rent and food service fees at city-owned facilities including the convention center, RFK Stadium, and the Armory, among other venues. Board members were notified Friday night that they would discuss the matter Sunday and vote Monday afternoon.

“Additionally,” Events DC executive director Gregg O’Dell wrote to board members, “in conjunction with DMPED, we are still negotiating with [Leonsis’s firm Monumental Sports] as to the final structure of the deal.” There are two possible scenarios: one in which “Monumental Sports makes no contribution to construction costs but pays approximately $400,000 per year to Events DC in rent” and another in which Monumental pays about $5 million upfront in lieu of rent.

A number of board members have balked at the deal, because they were brought into it late, and it requires most of the agency’s reserves.

Having Events DC pay for the majority of the costs could dampen criticism of public funding of another sports facility. Many critics argued against the District spending its money to build National Park in 2006; it has spent about $670 million.

Leonsis has been jostling for a practice facility for years. While considering sites in the District, Leoonsis also made it clear the facility could land elsewhere in the DC region. Silver Spring offered to pay the full costs of a practice arena, according to sources, and that compelled the District to make a deal.

The deal brings together many of the team that brought us Nationals Park. Bill Hall, a board member, also represents Monumental Sports. He recused himself from votes but has advised Leonsis. Mark Tuohey was executive director of the DC sports authority when the baseball deal went down; he’s now counsel to Mayor Muriel Bowser. Councilmember Jack Evans led the baseball negotiations and public funding deals. He’s been instrumental in the Wizards practice arena negotiations.

“It could be the catalyst that gets other people to invest in Congress Heights and that part of Ward 8,” Evans tells Washingtonian.

The District is scheduled to announce the deal at a press conference on Wednesday.