DC Council unanimously approves hundreds of millions in funding for Capital One Arena renovations

The D.C. Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the allocation of more than $500 million for renovations to Capital One Arena as part of a plan to keep the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals in the District until 2050.

Under the legislation, $515 million in D.C.’s capital budget will go toward renovations to the arena and improvements to the surrounding area, including the Gallery Place building next door.

Now, Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office has about 70 days to negotiate the final terms of the agreement, a spokesman told WTOP. 

According to Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Wizards and Capitals, initial terms of the deal include the following:

  • Developing the best sightlines for fans, premium hospitality options, better digital infrastructure, enhanced player spaces and more arena upgrades
  • Nearly 200,000 square feet of newly-programmed space throughout the arena and in the Gallery Place building
  • Seventeen dedicated safety officers from two hours before games to two hours afterward
  • New Wizards practice facility, with options including top floors of Gallery Place
  • The ability to hold four Washington Mystics and Capital City Go-Go games, and playoff games, at Capital One Arena
  • Giving Monumental control of Entertainment & Sports Arena management
  • Adding dedicated ride-share zone and drop off for events
  • Ability to close off F Street two hours before games
  • Removing vending, loitering, noise restrictions around Capital One Arena by creating an Entertainment District

According to a copy of the term sheet between D.C. and Monumental, obtained by WTOP, Monumental is also asking to be exempt from future taxes that might benefit other sports franchises. NBC4 first reported that request.

The lease agreement detailed on the term sheet would keep the Capitals and Wizards in D.C. until 2050.

Monumental, according to the agreement, is seeking a drug-free zone around Capital One Arena, and is interested in moving a bus stop at 7th and H streets farther away from the arena.

Some of Monumental’s other priorities, according to the term sheet, include creating a “no vending” area around the arena and prohibiting “streateries” near the arena, specifically along 6th street.

‘Not a contract’: DC, Monumental to begin hashing out specifics

It’s unclear how many, if any, of these priorities will appear in the final agreement, which is also subject to the council’s approval.

Now that the D.C. Council has approved the funding, Bowser’s office has a little more than two months to negotiate a final agreement with Monumental.

During a news conference ahead of Tuesday’s council meeting, Council Chair Phil Mendelson clarified that the terms of the initial agreement between Bowser and Monumental CEO Ted Leonsis are not binding, and the council merely approved an appropriation of D.C. capital budget money, not a finalized renovation project or its exact terms.

“We are not voting on the lease, which will have to come to the council. We’re not voting on any other documents that, depending upon what they are, will have to come to the council. And that’s where the District will be bound,” he said.

“And I don’t mean by that to create any ambiguity about what was agreed to last week. What was agreed to last week was initialed and signed by the mayor and by Mr. Leonsis and it is a commitment to go forward with negotiating documents consistent with the term sheet, but it’s not a contract,” Mendelson added.

According to the council resolution introduced by Mendelson, more than 3.4 million people attended events at Capital One Arena in 2023, bringing in more than $25 million in tax revenues and sustaining more than 650 jobs.

“A renovated arena in Chinatown/Gallery Place will again revitalize a neighborhood, create and sustain quality new jobs for District residents, and strengthen a commitment to community and fan engagement,” the resolution reads.

While D.C. has now approved $515 million toward the project, the total projected cost of the renovations exceeds $830 million, according to the resolution.

“With the District of Columbia Government’s substantial investment, coupled with a commitment to community engagement and economic development, the project is poised to redefine the arena’s role as a catalyst for our comeback,” the resolution reads.

Council members celebrate deal with eye on negotiations

Some D.C. Council members, while supportive of the arena agreement in general, expressed concern about their lack of involvement in discussions thus far.

“We got the term sheet less than 24 hours ago,” Council member Charles Allen said during Tuesday’s meeting. “We’re being asked to vote on $515 million, which we’re gonna do. But, we’ve had a term sheet with commitments made for less than 24 hours and we are voting on $515 million, and let’s acknowledge we know it’s an investment that needs to get made, so we’re gonna do it.”

Allen said, under the current terms of the deal, the District will be on the hook for more than $515 million.

“We saw within the term sheet that the mayor’s committed to, in addition to the $515 million, to have Monumental be able to go through the PACE Program and the D.C. Green Bank to have additional financing,” Allen said. “That is a program that has a cap on what is in that available every year, so every dollar that we now are sending to Monumental for the arena is a dollar we’re not investing in affordable housing somewhere else.”

Allen, along with council member Robert White, stressed the importance of collaboration between the mayor and council in the coming months as final terms of the deal are worked out.

“We’ve got to be working together. We’ve got to be focused on securing our economy, and the council’s gonna have to be involved, which means the mayor’s gonna have to start working with the council in a way that she hasn’t done in these two terms,” White said. “This has to be a wake-up call for our city. The future of downtown, the future of our economy is not guaranteed.”

A second chance for DC

D.C. and Monumental’s initial agreement to keep the Wizards and Capitals in the District was reached after a deal between Leonsis and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin to bring the teams to a new arena in Alexandria fell apart due to Democratic opposition in the state’s General Assembly.

“I think we need to take a realistic and sober view of what happened. The mayor dropped the ball,” White said. “We almost lost two sports teams, and the only reason we stayed in the game is because Virginia fumbled as well.”

State Sen. Sen. L. Louise Lucas, who chairs the Senate’s budget-writing committee, spearheaded opposition to the Virginia deal. She used her position to block the legislation, citing a range of concerns but foremost the financing structure of the deal: The use of moral obligation bonds put taxpayers and the state’s finances at risk, Lucas said.

Council members said once that happened, both D.C.’s mayor and council capitalized on the opportunity.

“I think we’ve done a good job as this council of standing in leadership with our city, in leadership with the mayor to say we are committed to make sure that when that ball was fumbled, after all the fruit baskets got sent to Sen. Lucas and thank you gifts, we were able to pick it up and be able to make sure that we could have this happen,” Allen said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

Thomas Robertson

Thomas Robertson is an Associate Producer and Web Writer/Editor at WTOP. After graduating in 2019 from James Madison University, Thomas moved away from Virginia for the first time in his life to cover the local government beat for a small daily newspaper in Zanesville, Ohio.

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