Apr 2, 2024 - News

D.C. lawmakers raise concerns before $515M Capital One Arena vote

Capital One Arena sign

Photo: Craig Hudson/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Hours before voting to approve spending $515 million on Capital One Arena, D.C. Council members raised concerns over the signed deal between Mayor Muriel Bowser and Ted Leonsis, the owner of the Wizards and Capitals.

Why it matters: The 14-page tentative agreement offers a tax abatement and a bevy of incentives for Monumental Sports & Entertainment — a package that some lawmakers on Tuesday morning said amounts to a more generous taxpayer investment than originally suggested.

The big picture: Council members were generally supportive of keeping the teams in the city, and unanimously approved the $515 million funding.

What they're saying: "We want Monumental to be here, but we also don't just want to give up everything and the kitchen sink," said Council member Kenyan McDuffie, chair of the business committee, in a breakfast meeting before the vote. "This is not a rubber stamp of terms that we don't yet know."

Zoom in: The deal — which was first circulated to council members late Monday — exempts the multibillion-dollar company from any future taxes that would benefit another professional sports franchise, according to a copy obtained by Axios. That includes an exemption from hypothetical taxes levied on businesses to construct, for example, a new football stadium for the Commanders.

  • The city would also "expedite" Monumental's application to finance clean-energy improvements to the arena through a city program that helps subsidize affordable housing development projects.
  • "Every dollar that we use from the PACE program … is a dollar we don't have available for affordable housing creation," said Council member Charles Allen.
  • The agreement aims to help Monumental grow a lucrative revenue source from digital billboard signs, a rarity in Washington outside of Chinatown. The agreement says D.C. would "propose legislation to expand" the presence of signage in the neighborhood.
  • Monumental "will be entitled to all revenues generated from such signage," the term sheet says. D.C. also agrees to grandfather in any existing digital signage around the arena that doesn't conform with current regulations.

In order to "ensure seamless project approvals," D.C. will appoint a senior government official called an "MSE Ambassador."

Reality check: The term sheet is not finalized and will still undergo negotiations between the Bowser administration and Monumental, deputy mayor Nina Albert told council members at the meeting.

  • Yes, but: "It's going to feel real binding when Ted Leonsis holds it up and says you committed to it," Allen told Albert.

The intrigue: Several lawmakers raised concerns with plans to relocate bus stops farther away from the arena, as outlined in the term sheet.

  • Albert said businesses in the neighborhood have sought that change due to pedestrian congestion on the sidewalk.

Zoom out: The District wants to rethink Gallery Place entirely. Albert offered Times Square as a model.

  • Albert described working toward an entertainment district with shops — a community that makes "families feel comfortable" and draws in tourists from the National Mall.

What's ahead: Council members will have an opportunity to sound off about the specifics of the terms in the months ahead.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.


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