Wizards’ $50m practice arena renderings are scenes from a post-apocalpytic nightmare

New renderings for the Washington Wizards practice facility (and Mystics home arena) to be built with at least $50 million in city money were released yesterday, and, I’m sorry, what?

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The new arena will apparently be surrounded by a massive frozen pond, or maybe a thin coating of a liquid polymer. Fortunately, no one will be around to try to walk on it, since that could get ugly.

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Is that a WNBA player? If so, why is she wearing so much makeup? What’s suspending the banner (?) in midair like that? And why on earth is there a film reel countdown projected (?) on a brick wall? What is it counting down to? Will there be any concession stands, or will the whole place just feel like an empty hotel lobby?

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The most important part of any new development: lens flare.

new-dcpract-5Put it all together and you have … dear lord. At least the rest of human civilization appears to have been destroyed in whatever cataclysm turned the very ground into a shiny flat surface, so no one will be around to see this. When the aliens land, though, they’re going to be disappointed that there’s nowhere to buy any curly fries.

D.C. proposes RFK site for new Wizards, Capitals arena, lo, these are the end times

In case you thought it was just Cleveland elected officials who are swallowing whole the line that 20-year-old sports venues are living on borrowed time, no, no, it so is not:

D.C. officials plan to unveil an array of possibilities for the future of the RFK Stadium property Monday night, among them a new 65,000-seat Redskins stadium and a basketball and hockey venue capable of replacing Verizon Center…

Officials also said for the first time that they are considering the 190-acre riverfront property as a possible location for a 20,000-seat arena equipped to serve the Washington Wizards and Capitals.

That’s right: The Verizon Center, opened all the way back in 1997 — dear lord, Seinfeld was still on the air then! — and which has been held up by arenas-as-urban-catalyst believers everywhere as an example of a sports venue that revitalized its surrounding neighborhood, is now marked for death, if not immediately, then certainly by 2027 when the Capitals‘ and Wizards‘ lease runs out. Not that the revitalization was necessarily all it was cracked up to be — much of D.C. has gentrified with or without neighboring arenas, and lots of residents and business owners near the Verizon Center didn’t benefit from any increased economic activity anyway because they were then priced out of the area — but forget about all that now regardless, because it’s now maybe time to put a new arena in some other part of town.

This is the very early stages of the planning process for the RFK site, obviously, and presumably someone just threw in a Wizards/Capitals arena because they figured owner Ted Leonsis would be asking for a new one sometime soon, so why not make it an option? The answer “Because he just built a new one, and he owns it, so he’s not going to move out of town and abandon it and the booming D.C. market just because his lease with himself runs out” apparently never occurred to, you know, I just can’t even. Finish this post yourself, I have to go have a lie down.

D.C. council asks not to pay for Wizards cost overruns, mayor implies that it must hate black people

Oh yay, it’s some actual news for once! Washington, D.C. councilmembers have gotten cranky about Mayor Muriel Bowser’s plan to stick taxpayers with not just the $50 million cost of a new Wizards practice facility but all cost overruns as well — which was first revealed back in December, okay, but it takes a while for the D.C. council to work up a good head of cranky — and have introduced a bill to cap the district’s costs at $50 million:

“The District’s tax dollars are finite, and we have an obligation to our residents and businesses to use their funds as responsibly and efficiently as possible,” [at-large councilmember Elissa] Silverman said in a statement from the dais. “If we have to put more money toward a practice arena because of cost overruns, there is less money for new school construction, new ambulances and fire trucks, new and remodeled recreation centers, and other needed civic infrastructure, especially in Ward 8.”

Silverman also noted that the way the mayor has put forward her plan, the council wouldn’t even have to vote on it — unless the council blocks it by this Thursday, the spending deal will be “passively” approved, which is the kind of crazy that sounds about right for D.C. governance. (Several councilmembers have already filed a motion to extend the arena decision until April 7.)

Bowser’s chief of staff John Falcicchio showed that the council has no monopoly on the cranky, telling Washington City Paper: “It’s troubling that certain Councilmembers would move to strip $5 million from a job creating project in Ward 8. This is similar to the Council’s effort last year to defund the RISE Center at St. Elizabeths. Don’t tread on Ward 8.” Why are you picking on poor Ward 8, councilmembers? Do you think Ward 8 doesn’t deserve your blank checks? If you really loved Ward 8, you would buy it a pony.

All this over whether D.C. taxpayers will pay for an entire $50 million NBA practice arena, or will pay for an entire $50 million NBA practice arena plus any additional costs that crop up when the Wizards decide they want gold-plated exercise equipment. Representative democracy sure seemed like a good idea at the time.

Maintenance costs on Nationals Park to bring city’s tab to more than $700m

Dave McKenna at Deadspin has a long article up about Washington, D.C.’s inexplicable love for sports subsidies, mostly focused on the new Wizards practice facility (public cost $55 million plus any overruns, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis’s cost next to nothing) and a possible new stadium for the city’s NFL team. But the most interesting tidbit for me was this:

On the same day when the mayor oversaw the groundbreaking for the Wizards practice space, Events DC head Greg O’Dell testified at a sparsely attended oversight hearing held in the city council chamber that $160 million was earmarked for improvements and repairs to Nationals Park.

Wait, what? When did this happen?

The hearing, it turns out, was on February 18, but as our own frequent commenter PowerBoater69 points out on another site, this isn’t exactly new money: The $160 million is just what D.C. has budgeted for future maintenance and upgrades to the Nationals‘ stadium. You can hear O’Dell’s comments about this starting at 2:40 on the video linked above:

“We conducted a study to look at this very issue, and we frankly are doing it for all our assets. The estimated costs over the remaining life of the stadium is about $160 million.”

So no, it’s not a new subsidy — taking on maintenance costs is something that D.C. agreed to in its original deal with the Nats. But it is a dollar figure for an existing subsidy that hasn’t been previously priced out. Even if you back that number down to a present value of, say, $100 million, then when added to the $611 million in construction funds that D.C. approved ten years ago Tuesday, the total public cost for the Nationals stadium will end up being more than $700 million. On a stadium that was originally supposed to cost $440 million. You elected officials really need to start reading the fine print, guys.

 

Wizards practice arena plan would put taxpayers on hook for full cost, plus overruns

If the idea of Washington, D.C. spending $50 million on a practice facility for the Wizards sounded terrible enough, it just got worse: The city government would be on the hook for all cost overruns as well, with the team’s share limited to $4.5 million in rent payments over 19 years:

Monumental is the only tenant lined up for the facility and is expected to use it about 40 percent of the time, through Wizards practices, Mystics games and games from a NBA D-League franchise that has not yet been created. Events DC, the city’s convention and sports arm, would be responsible for booking events the rest of the time and would pay for any overruns beyond $55 million.

[D.C. council chair Phil] Mendelson said since Monumental’s contribution of $4.5 million equated to the rent the company would pay over the 19-year lease it expects to sign, the mayor had committed to paying for the entire bill even though ticket sales will go to Monumental. “How will we make any money off of this?” Mendelson asked.

The details of the deal for the arena, which would also host Mystics WNBA games and maybe an NBA D-League team, are still not worked out. Mendelson actually supports the plan, despite his qualms, so it looks to have a good chance of passing — if so, I hope they’ll at least chisel his “How will we make any money off of this?” quote into the cornerstone.

D.C. residents give resounding thumbs-down to mayor’s NFL stadium plans

Residents of the area around RFK Stadium really do not like Mayor Muriel Bowser’s idea to use the land for a new NFL stadium:

More than 150 residents of Capitol Hill filled a church gymnasium Wednesday night to propose ideas for re-use of the Robert F. Kennedy stadium property.

Most of the ideas centered around sports: playing fields, a pool, a boathouse, skating rinks, walking trails, even a velodrome.

There was one idea they widely and intensely opposed: building a new stadium for the Redskins. And almost every one of the more than 20 people who stood up to oppose a new NFL stadium did so without saying the team’s name.

Meanwhile, two former National Park Service workers who live near the St. Elizabeth’s Hospital site really do not like Mayor Bowser’s idea to use it for a new Wizards practice facility:

“I don’t think we need it over here,” said Alphonzo Walker, an unemployed 53-year-old who lives in Ward 8.

“I don’t know about this area,” said Eric Clark, also unemployed and in his 50s, though a few years older than Mr. Walker. “What’s going to happen to the homeless who live there?”

Okay, sure, small sample size. Still, the general principle is valid: If you have a plot of available land, and a plan to dedicate a few tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in city money towards it, what’s the best way to generate jobs and other benefits for the surrounding neighborhood, if that’s your goal? Think carefully before you answer.

D.C. mayor proposes $55m Wizards practice arena, because city was out of other sports to subsidize

Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has scheduled a press conference today to announce her proposal for the construction of a brand-new sports facility in the District. Nope, not the NFL stadium she talked about last week. But wait, you ask: Don’t the Nationals and the Capitals and the Wizards and D.C. United all have new buildings either in place or under construction? What on earth is there left to build?

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser has reached a tentative deal to build a $56.3 million Wizards basketball practice facility and Mystics arena for majority team owner Ted Leonsis on the east campus of the former St. Elizabeths hospital in one of the poorest corners of the nation’s capital.

Yes, you read that right: a $56.3 million practice facility. Plus a home court for the WNBA’s Mystics, because apparently the team is giving up on ever again being able to sell more than 5,000 tickets a game, despite the league average attendance being over 7,000. (Yes, I’m sure lots of those tickets are freebies or heavily discounted, but still.) The money would come overwhelmingly from public pockets: $23 million from the city itself, plus $27 million from the city-funded Events D.C. tourism bureau, with Wizards owner Ted Leonsis chipping in a whole $5 million, plus another $10 million for unspecified “redevelopment and community philanthropic investments.”

Bowser’s administration says this will be a terrific use of public money, notes the Washington City Paper, because:

A press release about the new facility estimates that it will generate $90 million in tax revenues over 20 years, in part by hosting Mystics WNBA games and an estimated 90 non-basketball events a year.

Okay, so let’s get this straight: Having the Mystics sell fewer tickets at a new arena instead of more back at their old arena would generate more in tax revenues because … there’s such a pent-up demand for concert dates that the Verizon Center will be able to fill those former Mystics dates with lots of new revenue-earning events? While also slotting in another 90 new events at the new arena? All of which will be spending by people who never would have been in D.C. otherwise, because after all, it’s not a big tourist town.

Not to mention that at a 5.75% city sales tax rate, to provide $4.5 million a year in new tax revenues, this new practice facility — practice facility, keep reminding yourself that — would need to generate an additional $78 million a year in sales all by its lonesome. That seems pretty unlikely — though if it could be such a cash cow, you have to wonder why Leonsis can’t just build it with his own money instead of making the people of D.C. build it for him and then hope to earn it back through sales taxes. It’s not like he’d need to take out a loan, even.

If there’s any argument for handing $50 million in public money to one of the richest guys in town, I suppose it would be that this is supposed to “revitalize” a rundown section of Southeast D.C., because what business owner can resist the draw of selling their wares to 17 games a year worth of WNBA fans? There is a Metro stop nearby, so it’s always possible you’ll eventually see condos springing up in Anacostia, like you do in pretty much every other D.C. neighborhood with transit. Of course, whether condos — or easy access to WNBA games — is what poor neighborhoods really most need out of $50 million in public spending is another story, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers, right?

This whole mess still needs to go before the D.C. council, where it will no doubt be the subject of months of raucous debate before it gets approved at the last minute by councilmembers scrawling out an agreement in ballpoint pen on the council floor. Democracy!

Proposed D.C. ticket tax would fall mostly on team owners

A committee of the Washington, D.C., council is pushing a plan to add a ticket tax to sporting events in the District to fund parks and recreation programs: Tickets over $25 would get a $1 surcharge, those from $10 to $25 would get a 50 cent surcharge, and those under $10 would be spared. Also, the Washington Nationals would be exempt, as their lease with the city prohibits any additional ticket taxes — yet another argument in favor of the Nats’ lease being among the sweetest of sweetheart deals.

The Washington Post, perhaps predictably, says the new tax “would come out of fans’ pockets,” but that’s not entirely true: Most of the cost of ticket taxes end up getting folded into the face value of tickets, meaning local sports team owners would have to take a lower cut in order to keep from pricing themselves out of the market. (Team owners already price tickets as high as the market will bear, unless they’re really, really dumb.) And the higher surcharge on high-priced tickets might actually help keep some ticket prices down, as teams would have an incentive to keep tickets priced right at $25 or $10 without going over, to avoid triggering the higher levies.

The tax is expected to be voted on by the full council on May 26. Expect to hear plenty of howling from D.C. United and the Washington Wizards between now and then.