Feb 12, 2024 - News

Virginia Democratic senator puts Alexandria arena deal on ice

A picture of Sen. Louise Lucas

Louise Lucas is a powerful Democrat in Richmond. Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The deal to move the Wizards and Capitals to Alexandria took a tumble on Monday when a key Virginia senator said the legislation was dead.

Why it matters: Democratic Sen. L. Louise Lucas said her powerful Senate Finance Committee would not take up the legislation this year, dealing a blow to Monumental Sports and Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

Driving the news: Lucas told reporters on Monday that Youngkin has not been open to negotiating the more than $1 billion public subsidy for the new arena since it was unveiled in dramatic fashion last December.

  • "We've asked if there could be a way the project could be financed differently," added state Sen. Scott Surovell, who represents Northern Virginia. "We're basically told that piece of the bill is untouchable. That's a real problem."
  • Surovell told Axios he is open to "continued conversations."

What they're saying: Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the owner of the Washington franchises, said it is still committed to the Virginia plan.

  • "I am confident we can get to an understanding," said Monica Dixon, a top Monumental executive, at a news conference Monday at Capital One Arena.
  • Dixon also applauded an announcement from Mayor Muriel Bowser that morning to devote new police and human services resources to the Chinatown neighborhood.

Between the lines: A House version of a bill to create a sports and entertainment authority to oversee the arena project was advanced out of committee last Friday. That bill could make its way to the Senate

  • But barring a groundswell of public support for the arena, Lucas says she will be an "absolute no" on the bill even if it passes the House.

The clock is ticking, too: Virginia's 60-day legislative session ends on March 9. The governor can call a special session if needed.

  • Youngkin is "confident at the end of the day that the General Assembly will come together because this project is good for the entire Commonwealth," the governor's spokesperson Rob Damschen said in a statement.

The intrigue: Democrats said they want cooperation from Youngkin on two big agenda items: legalizing the sale and taxation of marijuana and raising the state's minimum wage to $15 an hour.

  • "It's a total disregard for the members of the legislature," Lucas said of Youngkin's non-engagement on the issues.
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