Pictured at the public announcement in Washington, D.C., are Chinyere Hubbard, VP, Communications & Marketing; Erik A. Moses, senior vice president and managing director of ; and Gregory A. O’Dell, president and CEO, all with Events DC; District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser; Bill Hall, Max Brown, Chairman, Linda Greenan, and Mimsy Lindner, all Events DC Board of Directors; LaRuby May, Councilmember, Ward 8; and Brian Kenner, Deputy Mayor of Planning & Economic Development.
The ground has not even been broken, major decisions such as construction and food and beverage partners have not even been made and the venue is not slated to open until the fall of 2018, but already the big buzz in the nation’s capitol is about the new $55-million, 5,000-seat future practice facility for the NBA Washington Wizards and WNBA Washington Mystics that will spring up at St. Elizabeth’s East in Ward 8.
With the announcement made public before a gathering on Sept. 16 at the Gateway Pavilion in Washington, D.C., the District will have not only a new venue that will also cater to entertainment and other types of meetings, but also jobs and an economic boost will come to an underdeveloped area desperate for good news.
“This venue is significant in many respects,” said Greg O’Dell, president and CEO of Events DC, the official convention and sports authority for the District of Columbia. “This is really in an area that has been underutilized for the community in Washington, D.C. It is in a challenging area that needs to be revitalized. Having this project there as a catalyst for revitalizing and redeveloping the area is very significant for the city. I can’t emphasize that enough. It is a location and initiative that is going to spark and serve as a catalyst for redevelopment there.
“It is an unfortunately underdeveloped area. There is higher unemployment in this area as well. This is something that has been probably a challenge over the years from administration to administration. Mayor (Muriel) Bowser has vowed to focus on finding opportunities and giving a lot of residents there a pathway to the middle class so this is as good a spark as any.”
Not only will the joint venture venue serve as a practice facility to the NBA and WNBA franchises, but it will also serve as the home court for Mystics’ games. O’Dell noted that as NBA teams add their Developmental League (D-League) franchises that the local franchise will also play in the venue.
Then there is the component of entertainment.
“This is a niche market for us to do a lot more entertainment, concerts and the like of a 5,000-seat arena,” O’Dell said. “We have some great smaller venues in the city but this really was kind of a niche market of that capacity that was not being served. We have a growing music and entertainment industry so this is a great platform to launch local artists and attract those types of events there.”
Perhaps most important for local residents, there will be lots of job opportunities during the construction as well as the operation of the facility. Small and local businesses also have opportunities to participate during both the construction and operation. It is expected to produce more than 600 construction jobs and 300 permanent jobs for both the arena and the Phase I infrastructure of St. Elizabeth's East, with priority given to Ward 8 residents.
Even though construction has not started due to the necessary environmental and infrastructure work and studies that the District must do, the energy is already in place.
“It is overwhelmingly exciting and positive,” said Max Brown, CEO and Board Chairman of Events DC. “I go back again to the fact that this takes place in an area of the city that has tremendous assets, foremost the people who live there who have been wanting to make sure that the development that’s been happening across the city comes to their community. It is a project that will create jobs, a project that will create entertainment options and, most important, a project that will hopefully catalyze that area and have an exponential effect on the community in a positive way.”
Brown also credited the mayor’s office as well as Ted Leonsis, CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, a community-driven enterprise that showcases the best teams and entertainment venues in the greater Washington, D.C.. area.
“The mayor through conversations with Ted Leonsis and Monumental Sports really honed in on the area,” Brown said. “We actually only have about 60 square miles of land here. A large swath of it is federal land. When you look at the opportunity to not only have this venue someplace, the question I think the mayor and deputy mayor asked frankly is, how can we place this in an area that needs economic development, will help create jobs and springboard development in an area that needs it?”
Brown said that the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, which also operates under Events DC, has been performing exceptionally well and that a $200-million Marriott Marquis Hotel opened with an underground concourse link to the convention center. The new practice facility, he said, is the latest example of what makes the city a destination.
“We are hopeful that we will take that positive energy and all the great work that’s been done here before and extend it to this 5,000-seat venue where we will be able to have lots of different events,” he said. “I am talking about all kinds of entertainment, concerts, event meetings and convention meetings.”
O’Dell said that the type of venue going up in Ward 8 could be a trend across the country for other NBA and NHL arenas.
“Teams certainly have requirements and needs for how they train their athletes,” he said. “Generally, it is tough for them to do so in the same venue where they play. I think it was smart on all of our parts to combine this use with other programmatic uses. We certainly weren’t building it as just a single-purpose facility.”
The teams are contributing up to about $5 million on the project, while the District of Columbia government will contribute approximately $23 million and Events DC will contribute $27 million. Events DC will operate the facility and also be entitled to the revenues from the venue as it relates to entertainment programming.
O’Dell said that there will be a strong market for naming rights for the as-of-now unnamed facility that goes by simply Entertainment and Sports Arena.
By whatever name, the countdown to an opening in 2018 has officially started.
“It takes everyone to help push a project like this forward, especially with a sense of urgency to get this done by the fall of 2018, which is our charge,” Brown said. “This facility will be part and parcel of what makes the District the leading global destination.”
Interviewed for this article: Max Brown, (202) 320-0405; Greg O’Dell, (202) 249-3307