WASHINGTON — D.C. has invested heavily in sports facilities in recent years, from the completion of Audi Field and the Entertainment & Sports Arena to the first stages of RFK’s redevelopment coming online this spring and discussions of a new NFL Stadium.
But one project that had stalled out was the renovation of the Fort Dupont Ice arena, the future of which depended on a meeting between city leaders Tuesday.
The meeting yielded some positive results — with an agreement between D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the Friends of the Fort Dupont Ice Arena.
Fort Dupont Ice Arena, the city’s only public ice rink, sits across the parking lot from the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy in Ward 7’s Fort Dupont Park. It is the home to the Gonzaga College High School and Catholic University hockey teams, and also offers free or subsidized programs to youth in the surrounding community.
The renovations would expand the already-at-capacity venue to two sheets of ice, helping it better cater to the more than 3,000 children its programming serves each year. These include not just hockey, but figure skating and speed skating programs, like the one that produced Olympian Maame Biney.
In late January, Mayor Muriel Bowser sent a letter to the D.C. Council with a request to reallocate money set aside for renovations to the Fort Dupont Ice Arena to help with urgent upgrades to D.C. schools. The bulk of the expense — more than $37 million in total — is for new HVAC units. Roof repairs and athletic facility upgrades are also on the list.
“Without these capital investments, the District will continue to spend millions of maintenance dollars every year addressing deteriorating conditions through inefficient ‘band-aids,’ rather than replacing building systems and equipment that are well beyond their useful lives,” Bowser wrote in the letter.
The request prompted backlash from Councilmember Vincent Gray, D-Ward 7. When Gray was mayor, he allocated $15 million from the budget to be used for the modernization and expansion of the aging arena, which was built in 1976. When he returned to the Council in 2017, he was part of the effort to add $10 million more from the Committee on Transportation and the Environment.
Bowser’s proposal would reallocate $21 million of that $25 million total, with no specific plan to find funds for the Fort Dupont project after this year, according to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. Gray initially filed emergency legislation to disapprove of the move and later proposed a special legislative meeting Tuesday, which Mendelson agreed to.
Had the two sides been unable to come to an agreement during Tuesday’s meeting, there was the possibility that a permanent resolution would have be introduced to disapprove of Bowser’s request to reallocate the funds.
“It is vital that the funding be protected and not subject to the whim of any official or shifting political tides,” said Gray in a news release.
This is hardly the first time Gray and Bowser have been at odds. Bowser unseated Gray as mayor in 2014, and the two have clashed over other issues, including a potential new hospital in Southeast D.C. Gray was reportedly mulling a challenge to the city’s top job in last year’s elections, but decided against it.
The Fort Dupont project has faced delays and an increasing price tag over the last few years.
As part of the response to the sudden threat to funding, Friends of Fort Dupont set up a GoFundMe with the help of Monumental Sports. The initial goal is to raise $500,000 of the $5 million total pledged by the group as their part of the renovation costs. UPDATE: The group is now tasked with raising $3 million by February 2020 as part of the new deal.
The group had raised nearly $435,000 of that total as of Monday evening, with three contributions of $100,000 each coming from Monumental Sports CEO Ted Leonsis, Monumental Sports itself, and the NHL.
Some critics have argued that Leonsis should pay for the entire renovation himself, even though Monumental Sports doesn’t own the building and has its own rinks and a Capitals practice facility in Ballston.
A spokesperson for Monumental said the Capitals have donated more than $200,000 since 2003 to the facility, which was one of the first places the team visited with the Stanley Cup last summer.