Dec 12, 2023 - News
Town Talker

D.C., Virginia dueling for the Caps and Wizards

The Washington Capitals owner (left) and the commonwealth's governor. Photos: Win McNamee/Getty Images and Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin is expected Wednesday morning to announce plans for a new Wizards and Capitals arena in Alexandria.

Why it matters: The move across the Potomac wouldn't just wipe out an economic engine downtown, it would crush D.C. fans 26 years into the teams' run at Capital One Arena.

What's happening: Youngkin's event, hyping an "economic development project," is expected to include team owner Ted Leonsis. Which is more reason to believe the Virginia plan is a done deal — even as Mayor Muriel Bowser is making an eleventh-hour counteroffer to try to keep the teams.

  • Bowser's pitch: D.C. would finance $500 million of a $800 million renovation of Capital One, "our best and final offer," she said in a statement.
  • Bowser released the plan late Tuesday night, with the backing of all thirteen D.C. Council members.
  • They promised a "swift and expedited review and approval process" to begin renovations.
  • The mayor's office also released renderings of a modernized arena.

What I'm hearing: Bowser and D.C. Council chair Phil Mendelson went to the arena on Tuesday to meet with Leonsis personally, according to two sources with knowledge who asked for anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak about the meeting.

  • Leonsis called the offer "generous," according to the sources, but said that he was weighing a plan from Virginia.

What they're saying: Longtime D.C. sports commentator Michael Wilbon ripped into Leonsis.

  • "That is awful," Wilbon said on his ESPN show. "You're going to take the city sport out of the city and turn your back on Washington, D.C., and go to Virginia. Really? What does that say to your [Wizards] fanbase that has been loyal despite despite zero years of contention for that franchise for a championship. Really?"

Catch up quick: Virginia is offering Leonsis acres and acres of land at Potomac Yards, in a deal worth nearly $1 billion to build a sports arena and concert venue, sources and several reports say.

  • The megaplex would supercharge Alexandria's growth, another coup for NoVa. The new Amazon HQ2 sits just to the north, and a new Virginia Tech campus is being built next to Potomac Yards Metro station.
  • Meanwhile, the loss of the teams would sink hopes for the future of Chinatown, already beset by empty office buildings and rising crime that led Leonsis to grumble about the area's conditions over the past year.

What's next: The Virginia proposal needs sign-off from the state legislature and Alexandria City Council.

  • But it appears D.C.'s only hopes of keeping the teams rest on the bill getting stuck in Richmond, or the neighborhood revolting in NIMBYism.

💭 Virginia Wizards doesn't have quite the same ring to it. Town Talker is a weekly column on local money and power. Send your tips to [email protected]

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