The future of D.C. sports under Mayor Bowser

WASHINGTON — As she takes office in about six weeks, mayor-elect Muriel
Bowser has plenty of issues to deal with across a broad range of social
topics. But she has several major impending projects involving local sports
projects, each of which will be publicly scrutinized and will heavily affect the city’s budget.

After years of Mayor Vincent Gray championing most every D.C. athletic
venture, it’s worth asking: What can the District expect from Bowser when it
comes to its sports investments?

One of her first major sports projects, possibly the largest one she will
confront in office, is the proposed DC United Stadium at Buzzard
Point. We got our first look at how she may approach such issues this week.

After nearly two years of back-and-forth negotiation, a deal was in place to
potentially use the Frank D. Reeves center in Northwest D.C. as the key
component of a land swap that would cut down on the city’s capital investment
in the project. It doesn’t seem like that component will fly
in Bowser’s regime, though.

While saying she was committed to a new stadium and keeping DC United in the
District, Bowser has come out this week to say that she does not
want the Reeves Center land swap to be part of the deal
. The mayor-elect
was on NewsTalk with Bruce DePuyt Wednesday and was asked to clarify
her remarks.

“What I’ve said over the course of the campaign, through the primary and the
general election, is that I want soccer — I want DC United,” Bowser told
DePuyt. “What people have always been concerned about is, why are we swapping
our building — a very significant building in a hot market, at 14th and U
Streets — basically ceding control over what happens at that building. So
that has been the tremendous point of contention among the discussion. And I
don’t think that it will scuttle the deal.”

She hopes to have a revised proposal done before the end of the year, less
than six weeks from now.

Others don’t necessarily share her optimism. As the Washington Business Journal pointed
, the shortfall of money from an alternate deal could end up being in
the tens of millions. And the real loser without the land swap is real estate
developer Akridge, who may not be
compelled to cooperate
under renegotiated terms.

There are other concerns involving the Reeves
Center. It’s been a cultural hub for decades, and what it stands for as a last remaining
vestige of a quickly gentrifying U Street is arguably more significant than
anything the building itself currently offers residents. And those residents
are many of the same people who voted Bowser into office just a couple of
weeks ago.

How Bowser ultimately handles the United deal may shed some light on how she
will approach future sports endeavors in the city; namely, the Wizards’ proposed
practice facility, and even a potential 2024 Olympic Games bid. Bowser
spokesman Joaquin McPeek shed some light on both the mayor-elect’s overall
view of the role of local government in promoting professional sports, as well
as her stance on potential District projects.



How mayor-elect Bowser succeeds or fails with the DC United project will set the tone for her other projects. (

“Sports is a convener,” said McPeek. “It raises the profile of a city, spurs
the cultural vitality of the city too. But there’s also the economic impact
we’ve seen, both with Verizon Center downtown and Nats Park at the Navy Yard.
The city has seen a real benefit from these projects coming online — much
bigger than basketball or baseball.”

McPeek said that the mayor-elect would have to see the details of any
potential Wizards practice facility deal before weighing in, but that her
priority would be in protecting the taxpayers and discussing the potential
impact with residents of the neighborhood.

“Anything we do in regards to a project, we’ve got to make sure the residents
are being heard,” says McPeek. “We have to make sure everybody has a seat at
the table before any decision gets made.”

As Ted Leonsis told
Bruce Alan on WTOP earlier in the week
, Shaw is “one of
the areas that we’re looking at, but it’s certainly not the preferred area,”
and later said “you’d not be surprised how many developers and municipalities
have reached out to us.” With Kettler Capitals Ice Complex already thriving in
neighboring Ballston, clearly Leonsis is willing to go outside the District to
house components of his Monumental Sports empire.

So how does Bowser plan to balance the desire to keep D.C. sports entities
within city limits with doing what’s best for the taxpayer? McPeek
suggested that the new mayor’s office would work diligently to make sure that
such projects did not lose out to neighboring cities.

“In general, we want people to know that the District is open for business,”
he said. “We want to be able to take advantage of opportunities to become an
economic leader. It is a balance that has to be struck.”

When it comes to potential future projects, such as the 2024 Olympic bid, Bowser
appears poised to take the same measured approach. Echoing Leonsis’ comments
from earlier in the week, McPeek mentioned the London model from 2012, in
which the Olympic Village was later converted into low-income housing as an
economic driver.

“It could be possible for the city,” said McPeek of an Olympic vision. “The
question is, will that plan support the long-term economic and societal
benefits to the city and the District?”

That seems to be the general theme of Bowser’s approach so far to such
projects — let’s do this, so long as it makes sense for D.C. specifically.
It’s a lofty ideal, to be sure. But if she’s able to pull it off with the DC
United deal, it bodes well for future endeavors.

Follow @WTOP and @WTOPSports on Twitter and WTOP on Facebook.

Federal News Network Logo

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up