‘We are still in the game’: Mayor Bowser says DC is holding out hope that Wizards, Caps will stay put

Mayor Muriel Bowser said she’s disappointed by a plan to relocate the Wizards and Capitals to Virginia and is planning for the future of downtown D.C. should it come to pass. But she hasn’t lost hope that those teams will stay put.

Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the organization that owns the teams, alongside Virginia leaders shared details about the proposed new sports venue and entertainment district in Potomac Yard, near National Landing, on Wednesday morning.

Prior to the announcement, the city put a $500 million counteroffer on the table that Bowser called the “best and final offer” to keep the teams at Capital One Arena in the Chinatown section of the Penn Quarter neighborhood.

Under D.C.’s proposal, the arena’s current lease with Monumental would be extended to 2052 with the city financing upgrades distributed over a three-year period, starting next year. The legislation also states the Capitals and the Wizards would not be able to relocate outside the District until the end of the lease.

“We know it’s the best for the fans,” Bowser said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon. “We know it’s the best for the city. And quite frankly, we think it’s the best for the entire DMV.”

‘National Landing Wizards doesn’t quite have the same ring’

Bowser said she hasn’t given up on making a deal with Monumental to keep the teams in the city.

“I’m not sure from what I heard this morning, what the Virginia process is, but we expect that it will hit some snags,” Bowser said at the news conference Wednesday afternoon.

The Virginia plan requires approval from the Alexandria City Council as well as the Virginia General Assembly.

Bowser said D.C. has more flexibility to act than Virginia.

She said she’s been in talks with members of the D.C. Council and Chairman Phil Mendelson to arrange a hearing for the D.C. bill early in the year and a vote as soon as February. That could mean Monumental starts receiving money for the arena renovations in the spring.

“The offer on the table is to extend the lease and the requirements of the current lease for 25 years and that is what the investment is for,” she said. “We’re still in the game with Monumental.”

Bowser added, “On top of all of this, we are very committed that Washington D.C. team should play in Washington D.C. National Landing Wizards doesn’t quite have the same ring.”

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Where did talks turn against D.C.?

Monumental has been in negotiations with the District for months, the mayor said. The city’s $500 million in the deal comes out of its capital budget, which pays for building and infrastructure by relying on borrowers — but there’s a debt cap in place.

Initially, the city was faced with caps that limited the amount of cash it was able to borrow. But recent interest rates and inflation numbers made for an improved refinancing report.

“That gave us room to put that kind of cash on the table,” Bowser said.

Bowser said the specifics of what’s in the Virginia deal are unclear.

“I think understanding the numbers will give us an idea of what we’re up against,” Bowser said. “Virginia is clearly going to drop a lot of money on that project and they have that vacant parcel.”

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

The rest of the approximately $1.5 billion would be supported through bonds issued by a newly established stadium authority. Those bonds would be repaid over time through rent paid by the teams, parking fees, naming rights and new tax revenues generated by the development.

Bowser said Monumental is faced with a decision between a suburban arena or an urban one — which she said fans seem to prefer due to access to other activities and access to transportation.

Capital One Arena can be accessed from all Metro lines — either through Gallery Place station directly next to the arena or through the nearby Metro Center station. Alexandria is only accessible directly through the Blue and Yellow lines, she said, adding that traffic is also “notorious.”

While she emphasized the city’s focus is on downtown, which she called the “best location for the teams,” she left other “multi-acre sites” in D.C. open as possibilities.

“If they want a campus style, it may take a couple of years, but we would have RFK, and we would have the FBI,” the mayor said, referring to RFK stadium and the old FBI building on Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

What do the city’s plans for a future downtown without the Caps, Wizards look like?

Ward 2 D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto speaking with WTOP

Some business owners have expressed concern about sports events leaving the city, as has Ward 2 Council member Brooke Pinto, who represents the Gallery Place-Chinatown area.

“It really cannot be overstated how important Capital One Arena is to downtown, to our transit ridership of people going to events over 200 days a year, the effects on our business communities surrounding the arena and local restaurants and stores,” Pinto said. “We are going to have to have a very urgent and difficult conversation in the city about reimagining what downtown looks like.”

Monumental Sports majority owner Ted Leonis said the plans for the relocation envision continuing to use Capital One Arena for Washington Mystics games along with other events such as concerts and collegiate competitions.

“[With] live entertainment, we have scheduling conflicts right now with the Caps and the Wizards where we have to restrict a lot of dates on the calendar over the course of October through June and this will really open up a lot of flexibility for us to be able to get more content into the DMV,” said Jordan Silberman, president of venues for Monumental Sports.

Bowser said she shares in D.C.’s fans “disappointment” on the potential relocation of the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals.

“But at the same time, we have to look at our assets,” she said. “We’re talking about five acres in the center of the District of Columbia. It’s a great asset and we are going to think deeply and broadly about that vision, and we’ll make the necessary investments to make it happen.”

Bowser announced a task force on the future of Gallery Place-Chinatown will be lead by Jodie McLean and Debby Ratner Salzberg.

McLean is the chief executive officer of EDENS, which is a national retail real estate developer based in D.C., and Salzberg is the former chair of the Federal City Council.

Both have experience — McLean oversaw the development of the Union Market District and Salzberg of the Yards in Southeast.

“These are women who know how to bring fantastic experiences for residents, business and visitors and quite frankly, create neighborhoods where there were different uses,” Bowser said.

WTOP’s Thomas Robertson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jessica Kronzer

Jessica Kronzer graduated from James Madison University in May 2021 after studying media and politics. She enjoys covering politics, advocacy and compelling human-interest stories.

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