Open Letter to Ted Leonsis from Andrew Macdonald

Open Letter to Ted Leonsis from Andrew Macdonald

Potomac Yard not suitable for Arena.

Dear Mr. Leonsis:

We want to make sure that there is no misunderstanding that many Alexandrians are angry about the prospect of Virginia taxpayers having to pay to build your sports arena at Potomac Yard.

Sports economists all agree that stadiums and arenas are money losers. There is absolutely no reason that Virginia taxpayers should be paying to build you a new facility a few miles from your current venue.  This is robbing Peter to pay Paul. We seriously doubt that Abe Pollin would share your lack of concern for all the businesses that have grown up depending upon the Capital One Arena.

Alexandria’s Potomac Yard is not a suitable location for your new sports arena. This project is going to cause horrendous traffic problems. Route 1 is the only major access road to Potomac Yard, and there is one small metro station nearby that was not built to handle large crowds. The transportation study that was released by the Commonwealth of Virginia offers no real solutions to these traffic problems. The fact is, Potomac Yard is not a good place to bring 20-30,000 people to sports and music events regularly throughout the year.

Traffic is a major concern for residents and small businesses. It’s a major concern for parents who want to take their children to a sporting event at the soccer field across from Potomac Yard, or someone who wants to get home from work, or to the airport in time to catch a flight. It’s of concern to people who live in places like Del Ray, Lynnhaven, Old Town, and parts of Arlington. Crime is a concern for Alexandria’s police department. 

In order to pay back all the bond debt and to make money for yourself, your arena needs to host hundreds of events each year. Your traffic studies, however, would suggest that there will not be many events that cause traffic problems. This claim is not believable. Either you don’t need hundreds of events to pay back a record-breaking public subsidy, or you do, and events at the arena complex will cause traffic chaos locally. Which is it?

 In contrast to Potomac Yard, Capital One Arena is surrounded by several metro stations. There is no shortage of road access or parking garages in the area. The Capital One Arena can easily be renovated if necessary which is exponentially less destructive than the construction of your arena will be for the sensitive wetlands around Potomac Yard and the Potomac River.

Then there are the too-good-to-be-true jobs and financial claims that are being made by Monumental Sports, JPMorgan Chase (the asset manager for the trust that owns the land that the arena would occupy), and HRA Advisors which prepared a report for Alexandria’s Economic Development Partnership (AEDP). The fact that none of these studies have been shared with the public aside from a summary provided by the AEDP may not bother you, but it’s a real sign to everyone else that this project is full of hot air. There has been no real independent cost-benefit analysis of this project. No real economic impact study. It’s all been you, Mr. Leonsis, telling us that the project is good for us and expecting us to believe you and accept your numbers. We don’t.

There is no reason for taxpayers to be saddled with 40 years or more of debt payments which we may have to pay if your business fails to generate all the revenue you say will be produced. There is no reason that taxpayers should be giving you several billion dollars to help you build a new arena. There is no reason that all the income produced by this project should be siphoned off to pay off this debt. There are plenty of reasons however to consider alternative development scenarios that have far fewer environmental, traffic, and fiscal impacts on Alexandria, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and D.C.

You want us to believe all these revenue benefits but you refuse to share with the public any of the economic studies so that we can analyze your claims. We don’t trust your numbers and neither do any of the sports economists who have seen what little info you have been willing to share.

We object to helping you and your investors, including the Qataris, become wealthier and wealthier at our expense. You want us to help you become a global sports franchise while we want development that is more in keeping with the small area plan for Potomac Yard and Alexandria’s many neighborhoods. We don’t need your sort of business to thrive.  Mr. Leonsis, we don’t want to be your next investment objective.

We object strenuously to your lobbying efforts both in Alexandria and Richmond. You stood up on Dec 13, 2023, after months of secret negotiations and announced that a deal had been struck between you, Gov. Youngkin, and City officials to build an arena in Alexandria. Did you ask Alexandrians what they thought about this deal? No. And since then what have you done to solicit our opinion on the deal? You have hired lobbyists in Richmond, dumped your signs and literature around town, and hired marketing firms to call voters and ask them to call their legislators to push them to support the project. This is not a democratic process.

And, we don’t like it. We think your arena project is a terrible idea for Alexandria, D.C., and Virginia. You made it clear that you don’t care much about the small businesses in DC that rely on you being there. You have made it clear that you care mostly about your franchise and not the community that supports you. So, why on earth would Alexandria want this sort of business as a centerpiece of Potomac Yard? We don’t.

So, please don’t feel we misunderstand you or that we need to remain more open-minded. Our minds are open but all we have received is a great deal of misinformation or simply no information at all. All of which makes us think that it would be far better if Monumental Sports and Entertainment stays in D.C. rather than trying to cross the Potomac at the expense of Virginia taxpayers.

Please don’t take this personally.  Think of it as a business decision that simply wasn’t well thought out and needs to be changed. 

Andrew Macdonald

Former Vice Mayor

Coalition to Stop the Arena at Potomac Yard member