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Deal Reached on Capitals Practice Ice

The rinks in Ballston would be open for public use for the majority of the year.

The Washington Capitals closed a deal with Arlington County Tuesday that will smooth the ice for the team's move into a new practice rink above a Ballston parking garage.

The agreement means a $42.8 million investment by the county to finance a 27-year lease for the team in the new facility near the Ballston Commons shopping mall. The team's annual payments on the lease are estimated at $2.4 million, but that number could grow as construction on the project continues.

"Everyone is very happy with this deal," said George Parr, the Capitals' director of operations. "It's been a long time in getting here but it has gone through an excellent planning process."

Within the new facility, 137,000 square feet atop the garage, has two NHL sized hockey rinks with seating for 1,200 fans along with a pressroom and a hall for special events. It will also house a 20,000-square-foot training facility complete with a fitness room and medical station for the team. Planning for the project began in 2000 but the team and county staff took their time building a business relationship and working out details.

"The hardest thing we had to figure out was how the county could finance it," said Parr.

To close the deal, the county and the team also had to contend with the owners of the property and many others.

"There were a number of interested parties with a stake in this deal and they all had a say in what was going to happen," said Tom Newman, acting director of real estate for Arlington Economic Development. "It was a complicated process involving everything from design to the financing."

Construction ON THE NEW ice facility is expected to begin in January 2005 and to last for about one year. According to Newman, the rink could give the Ballston area an added economic boost because the rink, at the corner of North Glebe Road and North Randolph Street, is close to a major local shopping center. At a conservative estimate, he said, 700,000 people each year will pass through the facility’s gates, everyone from the athletes to hockey clubs, school groups and recreational skaters. The draw of hockey, he added, will bring more people to the mall and to nearby bars and restaurants after games. Local hotels will also get more clientele as teams from outside Arlington migrate to the rink for competitions and need a place to spend the night.

But the real plus for Arlingtonians is that the rinks will be open for public use for the majority of the year. Parr said the Capitals only plan to use the facility for 400 hours each year, offering plenty of ice time for local residents. The deal could mean the advent of Arlington hockey on all levels.

Jim Rock, head of the Yorktown Patriots, the school's hockey club, said his team will finally have a convenient place to practice. The Patriots currently have to travel to Reston, where the nearest hockey rink is, and because it is difficult to get time on the ice, those practices take place at 5:30 a.m.

"Now we'll be able to practice at reasonable time in the near future," he said. "We're hoping this will lead to Arlington Public Schools recognizing hockey as a school sport."

Right now, the professional hockey season, which should have begun in mid-October, is on hold due to an ongoing dispute between players and owners over players’ salaries and other issues. It’s possible that the entire 2004-2005 season will be cancelled.

"It's hard to say what will happen," said Parr. "We're running out of time in the season."

Arlington residents could also be seeing Caps player out and about around the county. According to Parr, many have plans to live near their new training facility.

"For us, this is really a grassroots effort," he said. "We want to be close to where we're practicing and to reach out the community."