News & Politics

Is a Real Fight Brewing Over the New Alexandria Arena Proposal?

Recent developments are making the battle lines pretty clear

The site of the proposed arena. Photograph by Andrew Beaujon.

The proposal to build a new arena for the Washington Capitals and Washington Wizards in Alexandria has entered a new phase as advocates and opponents begin to square off. That’s not surprising in a small city known for its sober discussions of civic issues: “This is a city in which painting a brick the wrong color is immediate grounds for a panic attack,” says Becky Hammer, one of the authors of the humorous newsletter ALXtra, which describes its hometown as “the little city on the Potomac that’s been extra as hell since 1749.”


The “pro” side

Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns the teams, is of course in favor of the planned arena slated for Potomac Yard. A handbill from the company appeared on Alexandria doorsteps this week, marketing the arena as a “monumental opportunity”:

Monumental CEO Ted Leonsis published an update on the project Thursday, in which he breaks down where fans of the teams live (44 percent in Virginia, 41 percent in Maryland, 15 percent in the District, he writes) and says the proposed venue in Potomac Yard will be just as accessible to fans as Capital One Arena is. He also argues that, in the Washington area at least, sports arenas have tended to fulfill their economic promises:

The MCI Center transformed Chinatown into the economic heartbeat of downtown. With Nationals Park, the District of Columbia brought life to a once desolate neighborhood, now arguably the most vibrant and thriving area of the city. In Baltimore, the creation of the Maryland Stadium Authority in 1986 led to the public financing and continued public investment in Oriole Park at Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium. In Washington, DC and in Maryland, the revenue generated by the initial public investment in these sports complexes has been so successful that excess funds have been both returned to the general fund to be used for other purposes and reinvested in upkeep and improvements to the facilities.

Meanwhile, the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership says it will host a third “listening session” on Thursday, February 1. It’s held two already, and you can watch replays of the first two here and here. The city council plans to hold a town hall about the project Saturday, and the city will also host a series of “pop-up” in-person events starting next month; calendar here.

Bills to fund the project via a sports authority have been introduced in the Virginia House and Senate.

In his January newsletter, Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson made the case that the arena and attendant development could provide relief to people who pay property taxes in the city, who shoulder about 70 percent of the costs of running the city government. More taxes collected from commercial sources would help a lot, he claims.

On Friday, JBG Smith, the real estate giant that intends to develop the arena complex in concert with Monumental, announced that as part of the arena development, it planned to “proactively identify and preserve the affordability of 500 or more affordable workforce housing units within the City of Alexandria, prioritizing the Arlandria-Chirilagua neighborhood.”


The “con” side

A rendering of the proposed entertainment campus. Rendering courtesy JBG Smith.

The most active group of arena skeptics, at least if this reporter’s inbox is any indication, is called the Coalition to Stop the Arena. It plans to protest outside the city’s planned town hall Saturday morning at 9 AM. (The town hall is scheduled to start at 9:30 AM). Ron Moten of the DC group Don’t Mute DC has allied himself with the coalition and posted a video about the situation on Instagram this past week:


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A post shared by Ronald Moten (@ronaldmoten)

Everybody else

So what does this mean for people who haven’t made up their minds? The keen-eyed Alexandria resident may notice echoes of the recent fight to change single-family-only zoning in Alexandria. “The teams were kind of already assembled,” Hammer says.

People who don’t reflexively oppose changes in Alexandria—often in the name of “history,” a loaded term in a jurisdiction that was once a center of the slave trade and a hotbed of Confederate nostalgia (not to mention once a part of Washington, DC)—and who have legitimate questions about the proposed arena are getting drowned out by the passions stirred by this proposal, Hammer says. Opponents, she says, are “so annoyingly loud that they’re alienating people who would otherwise agree with them.” 

Transportation to and from the proposed arena is one really big question mark. Beyond the obvious traffic concerns, Metro GM Randy Clarke said late last year that the new Potomac Yard station would require improvements to handle arena crowds. Arena proponents say they’re working on transpo issues. The February 1 meeting will focus on transportation.

Hammer says people in the middle are likely watching the process play out: “I think there are a lot of people who aren’t terminally online who are having normal opinions and not hyperventilating.”

Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute,, and Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.