I am deeply disappointed by this week’s news that Monumental Sports has decided to move the Wizards and Capitals out of downtown DC, their home for the last 26 years. As an avid basketball fan, this is not only a devastating loss to the loyal fanbase in the District, but also to the surrounding restaurants, hotels, and small businesses that rely on the cultural tourism generated by the events at Capital One Arena. What is even more frustrating about this news is that it was entirely avoidable.
Earlier this summer, I met with Monumental Sports about the capital needs of the arena, but more importantly, about their vision to revitalize the area surrounding their home base. Since economic deals are not initiated by the Council, for months prior they had been in conversations with Mayor Bowser’s Deputy Mayor for Economic Development but felt they were not making any progress towards resolution. I had heard rumors that Virginia was aggressively courting Monumental, and after my meeting with them I began sounding the alarm to the Mayor, my colleagues, and business leaders that the District needed to focus on retaining our existing sports teams before courting any new ones. These warnings, unfortunately, seem to have gone unheeded until the 11th hour.
Even though Monumental has stated they intend to continue to operate the arena with the Mystics, concerts, and other events, the loss of our NBA and NHL teams will be a body blow to the District’s economy. Tax revenue generated in the Gallery Place/Chinatown neighborhood supports our schools, infrastructure, and critical human services programs that support the entire District. I also worry about what this shuffling means for future developments at the St. Elizabeths campus in Congress Heights. Having the Mystics play at the Entertainment and Sports Arena there has had reverberating economic impact for businesses located in that community and had been used to entice developers to pursue other projects on the campus. When they leave, we cannot let efforts to develop St. Elizabeths stall or fail.
I know there are a myriad of things that could go wrong with Monumental’s plans for Virginia, and we’d certainly welcome the opportunity to craft a deal that keeps both teams for more decades, but we cannot wait. Rebuilding our downtown core needs to be a real top priority for the Mayor and the Council. Tax incentives for converting office buildings to residential apartments cannot be the totality of our plan. We must move more quickly to reactivate Class B and C buildings downtown before the fiscal effects multiply. There is real opportunity for growth in the health and higher education sectors, but we need regulations and agency processes that promote rapid redevelopment. Enough with taskforces and reports that sit on shelves – we need action and urgency. We also need leadership and collaboration amongst all parts of our government to reverse what feels like a hollowing of our urban core.