Leonsis hints at demanding new arena for Capitals, Wizards as soon as old one is paid off

So among all of last week’s pre-election shenanigans, this happened:

“My inclination right now would be — it’s pretty awesome where we are,” [Washington Capitals and Wizards owner Ted] Leonsis said Wednesday, the morning of the Wizards’ 2016-17 home opener. “And I love what’s happened to [downtown] D.C. But I don’t know what’s going to happen five, six, seven years from now. . . . I will be a free agent. I mean, that hasn’t been lost on me.”…

His “free agent” comment aside, Leonsis made it clear he is not actively seeking to leave downtown D.C., an area that has grown up around the franchises into a thriving, inner-city entertainment and shopping district. But neither would Leonsis commit to keeping the teams there.

“In terms of the Verizon Center, I’m being sincere: There’s been no discussions of would we look to move,” he said. “Have we talked to Virginia? We have not. Have we talked to Maryland? We have not. I would never do that. My goal would be stay where we are or stay within the city.”

That … that’s a threat, right? Pretty sure that dropping the names of neighboring states and then saying only that you want to “stay where we are or stay within the city” is a veiled threat of the “it’d be a shame if someone was to set fire to the paratroopers” variety.

The crazy thing here is that Leonsis owns the Verizon Center, so he’s in effect threatening to break his lease with himself. He actually made a point of noting that in his talk with reporters, calling his $23 million in annual mortgage payments and $13 million in annual maintenance payments “the worst building deal in professional sports” — it’s really not, but even if it were, having to pay to build and maintain your building is what in most industries is considered a normal business expense, and in any case was baked into the price that Leonsis paid Abe Pollin for the two teams in 2010 — and griped that it’s the equivalent of “paying four, five times the rent compared to other teams that we compete with.”

The mortgage will be paid off in 2023, when the Verizon Center turns 26. Why Leonsis refers to this date as a time to become a “free agent” is slightly baffling, since he has the same debt obligations whether he demands a new arena now or later, but maybe he thinks, “Hey, I just paid off my mortgage and am now more profitable, how about gifting me an even newer arena!” is the kind of argument that will fly with D.C. elected officials?

The only other thing I can think of is that maybe Leonsis, noting how property around the Verizon Center has become more valuable since it opened — partly thanks to its construction jump-starting development interest, partly because pretty much everywhere in D.C. is soaring in value these days — is angling to get both a new arena (this time with somebody else paying the mortgage) and get to redevelop the Verizon Center site. Or maybe he’s just keeping his options open in case he can wangle a piece of the RFK site. Leonsis managed to get $50 million from D.C. for a friggin’ practice facility, so you have to figure he’s hard at work planning an encore.

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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.

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