Monumental First Step

Monumental First Step

Va. House passes bill to advance Potomac Yard entertainment complex; local opposition continues.

Members of the Coalition to Stop the Arena at Potomac Yard gather on the steps of the Richmond capitol Feb. 8 to protest the proposal to build an entertainment complex at Potomac Yard.

Members of the Coalition to Stop the Arena at Potomac Yard gather on the steps of the Richmond capitol Feb. 8 to protest the proposal to build an entertainment complex at Potomac Yard.

Legislation to create a sports and entertainment authority at Potomac Yard in Alexandria passed the Virginia House of Delegates Feb 13 on a 59-40 vote, one day after the Senate killed a similar bill.

Support was split among Northern Virginia representatives, with Delegates Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (D-Alexandria) and Adele McClure (D-Arlington) voting no while Del. Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) voted yes. Bennett-Parker and McClure represent Alexandria’s Potomac Yard and Arlington’s Crystal City neighborhoods, which are expected to be most impacted by the proposal.

“Today’s vote is an important milestone in the efforts to bring a sports and entertainment district to Potomac Yard,” said Mayor Justin Wilson. “Adoption of this legislation will allow the residents of our city to be able to consider this project, based on the merits of the proposal and the benefits it would bring to our community.”

HB 1514, the Virginia Sports and Entertainment Authority and Financing Fund, was introduced by Del. Luke Torian. The bill proposes creating a sports authority that would issue more than a billion dollars in bonds to build a sports and entertainment district as a new home for the Washington Wizards and Capitals near the Potomac Yard Metro station.

Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the teams' parent company with CEO Ted Leonsis at the helm, would repay the loan from revenue generated from events at the facility. Should Monumental default, the loan would fall to taxpayers, which Monumental representatives say is extremely unlikely.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin released a statement following the vote, saying, "Following the MEI Commission’s unanimous approval in December, the bipartisan vote in committee and today's bipartisan support on the House floor, the more decision-makers learn about this project the more they realize that the positive impact reaches all corners of the Commonwealth.”

More than 60 Alexandria residents and members of the Coalition to Stop the Arena traveled to Richmond Feb. 8 to lobby state legislators to oppose the project.

“We had a great trip to Richmond,” said Stop the Arena representative and former vice mayor Andrew Macdonald. “We met with over 30 legislators and held a great press conference at the Bell Tower. We considered the trip successful given that 40 bi-partisan delegates voted against the House Arena Bill.”

Macdonald was one of three Coalition members who spoke against the bill as it was being passed in the House Finance Committee.

“Overall, we were very pleased with the vote, though we certainly would have liked it to have been defeated,” Macdonald said. “But we are confident now that the momentum is changing and that legislators are beginning to realize that subsidizing a billionaire with one of the largest public subsidies on record is not good for Virginia taxpayers.”

The legislation now heads to the Virginia Senate for review, where several lawmakers expressed a lack of confidence in Leonsis and have indicated they would vote it down.

"If he's willing to renege on the lease on the folks in D.C., what's to say he wouldn't do that to us," said Sen. Louise Lucas (D-18). "I'm not willing to take those risks, not under my watch."

Lucas, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, declined to bring the legislation to a vote before the committee, effectively blocking the legislation in the senate. Lucas has been outspoken about her disdain for the proposal, calling it a "half-baked Glenn-dome."

Monumental Sports and developers say the project will create 30,000 jobs, generate $12 billion in economic impact, and bring two professional sports franchises to the Commonwealth.

“We are so encouraged by the bipartisan support for this monumental opportunity to create jobs and generate revenue that will benefit the city, the region, and the entire Commonwealth of Virginia,” Monica Dixon of Monumental Sports said in a statement. “This is a big step forward in the process, but we know it is not the last step. We believe this is the right project for Alexandria, for Virginia, and for our fans, players, coaches, and employees. We look forward to working with the leadership, members, and staff of the Virginia Senate to answer their questions and earn their support for this transformative economic opportunity.”

The last day for legislative action this session is March 9. House Bill 1514 includes a “reenactment” clause that forces the General Assembly to vote again on the bill in 2025.

“I think legislators are beginning to understand that the arena will have unmanageable traffic impacts on Alexandria,” Macdonald said. “We are very disappointed that Mayor Wilson and the Council threw its support behind this project before consulting with the public. We have learned recently that Monumental, state and maybe City officials were engaged in secret discussions for two years before the public heard anything about the project. And the City and Commonwealth has still refused to release any of the full economic studies. We will keep fighting until the Bill is defeated.”