Washington, D.C.’s Capital One Arena was an influential early example of the use of sports facilities as centerpieces for urban renewal efforts. Though it took several years after its 1997 opening, the venue’s Chinatown neighborhood saw a marked rise in commercial activity, to the point where gentrification complaints were ultimately raised.
Twenty-six years later, Monumental Sports & Entertainment chairman Ted Leonsis, who owns the Washington Wizards and Capitals, is thinking even bigger.
Leonsis and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced on Wednesday plans to develop a $2 billion sports and entertainment district in Alexandria’s Potomac Yard, with the project set to include not only a new arena but a new practice facility for the Wizards, a performing arts center, a studio for the company’s Monumental Sports Network, hotels, a convention center, housing, and retail.
The plan ultimately looks to take many of the same concepts initially applied to the development of Capital One Arena, but in a much larger, more unified project, and one keeping in the current “mini-city” trend sweeping the sports industry. MSE and Youngkin are targeting a 2028 opening.
“When we first came out here, I saw 70 acres and the ability to start with a clean slate, and imagine what an arena 30 years from now [would] need,” Leonsis said. “It really is a very, very romantic, but also pragmatic, vision that we have, [one] that we can’t do anywhere else.”
Public funding toward the effort will require legislative approval from the full Virginia General Assembly. “We’ve still got some work to do,” said Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia. “All of this will have to come together in a way that makes sense.”
A key element in the background of Leonsis’s plans is the current state of D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood. After that area’s rise, the pandemic and a more recent crime wave have heightened tensions.
Leonsis says he is now eyeing Capital One Arena as a hub for women’s sports, including his own WNBA Mystics, and for concerts. But hours before the Wednesday announcement in Virginia, D.C. officials unveiled their own plan to provide $500 million in public money to renovate the current arena, now one of the oldest in both the NBA and NHL, and keep the Wizards and Capitals around.
That proposal is a marked reversal from prior resistance to MSE requests of up to $600 million in public funding.
“We know it’s best for the city, and quite frankly, we think it’s best for the entire [region],” said D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser.