Bill laying groundwork for new Wizards, Capitals arena in Alexandria passes in Virginia House

FILE - A general view showing the site for a proposed new stadium for the Washington Wizards NBA basketball team and Washington Capitals HNL hockey team, Dec. 13, 2023, in Alexandria, Va. Virginia lawmakers are set to take up legislation to enable Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin's plan to build a new professional sports arena and entertainment district in Alexandria. The legislation is expected to be among the most high-profile issues legislators grapple with during the 2024 session, which begins Wednesday. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, file)(AP/Alex Brandon)

The Virginia House of Delegates voted Tuesday 59-40 to pass legislation that would establish a sports and entertainment authority, laying the groundwork for a new arena to be built in Alexandria for the NBA’s Washington Wizards and the NHL’s Washington Capitals.

“While there is much more that needs to be worked out here, I’m voting yes today to allow the debate to continue,” said Del. Charniele Herring, a Democrat who represents Alexandria.

While House passage marks a significant development for supporters of the project, the legislation now heads to the Virginia Senate where its future is uncertain.

Some Democratic leaders in the Senate have voiced strong opposition, including Democratic Sen. L. Louise Lucas — chair of the Senate Finance & Appropriations Committee — who claimed that the legislation would be dead on arrival if it landed in her committee.

The legislation is widely expected to end up in Lucas’ committee, but as of Tuesday afternoon, it was not clear which Senate committee the legislation would ultimately be referred to.

Referring legislation to committees is the responsibility of the Senate’s clerk.

What’s in the bill?

The bill would create a sports and entertainment authority that would own the land in Alexandria and lease it to Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the owner of the Capitals and Wizards.

It would have the ability to fund much of the project by issuing 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 calls 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.

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 development.

The whole site 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.

More Monumental News

Even if it makes it all the way through the Virginia General Assembly, the plan would also need to be approved by the Alexandria City Council, which has been critical of the legislation for the amount of Alexandria representation that’s included on the sports and entertainment authority’s board.

The board would have 15 members, including five members appointed by the governor, two members appointed by the House speaker, three members from the Senate Rules Committee, three members appointed by the Alexandria City Council, one member representing Arlington and one member representing Monumental.

Some Alexandria council members have said that three members appointed by the council is not enough.

Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson, who is a member of the council, told WTOP that Tuesday’s House vote “allows us to continue the conversation with the community about the merits as well as the challenges with this proposal.”

When asked directly whether three members appointed by the city’s council was adequate, Wilson did not answer directly.

“I’m not interested in negotiating the details of the legislation in the media,” Wilson said. “We’re going to work through the process to make sure we get the best constitution for the board.”

Wilson said he and council members have been talking to residents for weeks, including “answering hundreds and hundreds of emails.”

“We’ve had multiple town hall meetings, community listening sessions, public hearings, and we have little pop-ups that we’re doing in the neighborhoods,” Wilson said. “You have people who are strongly against this and cannot be persuaded, you have people that are strongly supportive of it, and I think most people I hear from are saying, ‘hey, tell me more.'”

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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