Critics of Alexandria arena plan are ‘personally frustrating,’ owner of Caps and Wizards says

Ted Leonsis, the owner of the NBA’s Washington Wizards and the NHL’s Washington Capitals, responded Friday to Alexandria, Virginia, residents who are opposed to the plan to move the teams from D.C. to a new arena in the Potomac Yard neighborhood of Alexandria.

“It’s a very passionate group of residents, and they’re exercising their rights,” Leonsis said in an interview with WTOP. “I think some of their concerns are — I don’t want to say misguided — but maybe misunderstood.”

A busload of Alexandria residents traveled to Richmond this week to lobby state lawmakers against the plan.

While Leonsis said he takes all their concerns “very seriously,” he added that “it has become a little personally frustrating.”

Specifically, Leonsis said he wasn’t happy with critics who have claimed that the Potomac Yard Metro stop is not big enough to handle arena crowds.

“Having to extend a walkway and add some elevators and escalators would be a solution to that one specific problem,” Leonsis said. “When something comes up to us, we say, ‘Tell us specifically what the problem is, and let us address that specific problem.'”

Leonsis said he’s hoping “people can remain open-minded.”

The tentative agreement between Virginia and Leonsis’ company, Monumental Sports & Entertainment, is not a done deal yet, as it still must be approved by the Alexandria City Council and the Virginia General Assembly.

“I’m comfortable with where we are in the process,” Leonsis said. “They say democracy sometimes isn’t pretty.”

When asked if he was worried the deal could possibly fall through, Leonsis said he was encouraged by the fact Virginia’s governor, Glenn Youngkin, and Alexandria’s mayor, Justin Wilson, were both strongly pushing for the arena.

“I don’t think the governor, I don’t think the mayor would have undertaken this if they didn’t think they had support,” Leonsis said.

The proposal calls for the creation of a $2 billion development in the Potomac Yard section of Alexandria, along the Potomac River and near Virginia Tech’s ambitious Innovation Campus, a graduate school that is under construction.

The Virginia General Assembly would need to approve the creation of a Virginia Sports and Entertainment Authority, a public entity with the ability to issue bonds.

While no upfront state taxpayer dollars would go toward the project, the terms of the agreement would divert new tax revenues from the project to pay down the bonds.

The broad outlines of the proposal call for Monumental to invest $403 million in the $2 billion development. Alexandria would put in $106 million toward the construction of the performing arts venue and the development of underground parking.

It would include an arena, as well as a new Wizards practice facility, a separate performing arts center, a media studio, new hotels, a convention center, housing and shopping.

The rest of the approximately $1.5 billion financing would be supported through the authority-issued bonds.

Those bonds would be repaid over time through rent paid by the team, parking fees, naming rights and new tax revenues generated by the entertainment district.

Some Alexandria residents opposed to the plan have said they’re concerned about added traffic congestion in the area.

Leonsis said he would be committed to addressing that.

“No one hates traffic more than me, but no one will drive to solutions more than me,” Leonsis said. “I am fixated on fan experience.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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