Ted Leonsis, owner and CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, needed a new facility for his Washington Wizards, Mystics and a potential NBA Development League team. Muriel Bowser, Washington, D.C.’s new mayor, was looking for something to revitalize one of the District’s most underserved regions. On a site visit at the former St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Southeast Washington, where the unemployment rate is significantly higher than that of the rest of the city, the two powerful public figures found what they were looking for.
In September, a deal that took mere months to complete—remarkably fast in an area known for red tape—was announced that promises to benefit the professional teams and also the city. “This is really going to be transformational,” says Greg O’Dell, president and CEO of Events DC, the city’s official convention and sports authority that will operate the $55 million sports and entertainment venue.
The project will serve as the practice facility for the Wizards and home court for the Mystics, which will move from Verizon Center to a 5,000-seat arena inside the complex. It’s also expected to serve as a catalyst for Leonsis, who also owns the NHL’s Capitals, to acquire a D-League team affiliated with the Wizards. O’Dell adds some events that currently use Verizon Center will transfer over once the facility is completed in fall 2018.
When the pros are not using the site, it will accommodate midsize sporting events, ranging from boxing to mixed martial arts to high school basketball tournaments (D.C.’s mix of elite private and public basketball teams makes it one of the country’s hotbeds for the sport).
“There will be many, many opportunities for youth to participate,” says O’Dell.
It will also house concerts too big for renowned venues like the 9:30 Club and Black Cat, but too small for the area’s major arenas.
O’Dell notes the Washington Nationals also operate their Youth Baseball Academy in Southeast D.C., a program that could serve as a model for Leonsis as he reaches out to the community.
Much of the reaction to the new facility has been positive, but there has been some criticism over the funding structure. Events DC, which is in charge of the construction and management of the facility, is responsible for a reported $27 million. The D.C. government will invest $23 million in the project. Monumental Sports will pay $5 million for the construction.
O’Dell says the public costs are worth it.
“I will tell you it’s well worth it,” he says. “There is a significant economic benefit associated with tax dollars that will more than justify the investment—as a catalyst immediately and certainly in the long term. This had to make sense economically.”
Photo Credit: Events DC