Arena: Approval needed from unions, General Assembly, Alexandria council



(The Center Square) – Without more than 12,000 construction job workers, a proposed arena plan in Virginia’s Potomac Yard has more trouble.

Already missing was legislation from the state Senate.

The $2.2 billion proposal to move the NHL’s Washington Capitals and NBA’s Washington Wizards into Alexandria is still alive for Ted Leonsis, owner of both teams, and Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin. It’s not by much.

Even the stalled Senate bill’s sponsor, Majority Leader Scott Surovell, hasn’t fully endorsed the project. Never mind the slamming of breaks by his chamber’s appropriations chairwoman.

To come to fruition, unions promised jobs will have to reach an agreement on conditions; both chambers of the General Assembly need to give approval through legislation or in the state budget; and City Council in Alexandria has to say yes. Taxpayers and about $1.5 billion are linked.

In wanting to leave, Leonsis laments his $36 million mortgage on Capital One Arena; says the building needs a renovation, pegged at $600 million to $800 million, which the District of Columbia has counter-offered up to $500 million; and he cites crime in the Gallery Place neighborhood of Chinatown. Metropolitan Police Department crime data has year over year increases of 69% for robberies, 40% for violent crimes, and 34% for homicides.

Tuesday’s news that the Northern Virginia AFL-CIO and other member unions, such as one representing hospitality workers, are now opposed was an unexpected turn of events. Youngkin says 30,000 jobs are at stake in the project, one being advocated as returning a windfall to state and local budgets despite subsidizing a billionaire team owner and his millionaire players.

The Center Square, many times, has reported on stadium and arena deals utilizing taxpayer money. In more cases than not, proposals put before citizens lack context.

“Virginia is a right-to-work state and unreasonable demands from union leaders will not derail this project,” Youngkin said in a statement. “I will continue to work with the General Assembly to complete this opportunity and bring $12 billion in economic contributions that will fund shared priorities in Virginia.”

The House of Delegates has favored the project to go forward. Sen. L. Louise Lucas, chairwoman of the Senate Finance & Appropriations Committee, parked the companion bill in her chamber without so much as a hearing.

About $1.5 billion – the largest subsidy for a project of its kind – of the deal is to be financed by bonds created in the legislation. If project revenue is short, such as for ticket tax, parking fees and the like, a third of the financing would be from “moral obligation” of city and state governments – meaning taxpayers. Monumental Sports & Entertainment, Leonsis’ corporate arm, puts up $819 million and Alexandria $106 million. Not included is about $200 million from taxpayers for the Metro trains and major roads of the area.

The late Abe Pollin, the previous owner of the teams, paid for the MCI Center – now called Capital One Arena – himself in a bet on the fans and District. That was 30 years ago.

The new site is near Reagan National Airport, the new headquarters for shopping giant Amazon, and a graduate campus for Virginia Tech. Potomac Yard would also get an entertainment district inclusive of a performing arts venue, some corporate offices, hotels and a convention center.

Leonsis and Youngkin have targeted 2028 for playing in the new arena.

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