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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Funds Nixed for the Capitals’ and Wizards’ Proposed Move. Now What?

  • A state senator leads the charge to block public funds for the proposed arena.
  • Virginia Gov. Youngkin now has several other options, all of them carrying difficulty.
Monumental Sports & Entertainment

A prominent Virginia lawmaker has stopped the proposed $2 billion arena and mixed-use development in Alexandria for the Washington Wizards and Capitals—at least for the moment—and perhaps offered a powerful template for other politicians opposing taxpayer funds for sports facilities. 

Holding firm to long-stated resistance to the project, state Sen. L. Louise Lucas said Thursday that public funding for the Ted Leonsis–led arena project is not included in a final budget compromise between the two chambers of Virginia’s legislature. But rather than convey that opposition in a more staid and politically conventional fashion, the 80-year-old has colorfully slammed Leonsis and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin for weeks, particularly on social media, and vowed to “kick the ass” of anyone who tried to bully her.

Such viral barbs have continued this week as she posted a Photoshopped depiction of herself on X flashing a peace sign over a grave with a headstone that reads, “Youngkin and Leonsis’ $5 billion arena,” and another with a picture captioned, “Tell Glenn I want him to know it was me.”

“I do not believe we ought to put the full faith and credit of the commonwealth behind a project that’s going to enrich billionaires,” Lucas said. “If they want this project, [they can] pay for it themselves.”

Is Virginia Still in Play?

The defeat, adding to community opposition also building against the project, leaves Leonsis and Youngkin with several options—none of them as timely or politically expedient as what had been attempted in a 2024 legislative session ending Saturday. 

Youngkin could offer a budget amendment or stand-alone bill, but it remains unclear whether there is sufficient political support for that, particularly in light of opposition led by Lucas. The governor could also call a special legislative session, but that, too, requires political capital he might not have. 

Leonsis and Youngkin could also adjust their timetable and spend the next year building a broader caucus of support around the project. And the more radical option would involve Leonsis abandoning the Virginia effort altogether and reengaging with D.C. leaders, who have a standing offer of $500 million to renovate his teams’ current home, Capital One Arena.

However, on Thursday afternoon, a visibly frustrated Youngkin pleaded for a last-minute change by Lucas and other arena opponents but, in the same breath, also lashed out at the senate for refusing to give the deal “any serious, meaningful consideration.”

“I believe our [Virginia] Senate and General Assembly have a chance to stand up and do what’s right,” Youngkin said. “They have a chance to assess this one-of-a-kind opportunity on its merits. It befuddles me that we’re not spending today talking about how to deliver it.”

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