NBC 4 broke news Friday that the District of Columbia and Washington's NBA team are discussing a potential practice facility in the Shaw neighborhood. Talk about a Friday news dump.
While planning is preliminary at this point, the report indicated that the Wizards want to move quickly. They are considering a 5,000 seat facility in the D.C., as well as possibly Tyson's Corner and Arlington.
Before you jump to conclusions (we're looking at you, #KD2DC diehards), let's lay out the facts, speculation and complications when it comes to this.
Why do the Wizards want a new practice facility?
The Wizards currently practice on a court that exists in the lower level of the Verizon Center. While this may have been state of the art when it was originally conceived in the early 1990s, it doesn't compete with newer practice facilities that competitors are using. The Nets are set to have a $45 million facility
in New Jersey in Brooklyn ready to go for the 2015-16 season.
Proponents of practice facilities believe this provides a lure for free agents. They argue that since the Wizards are currently in the midst of one of their most successful bouts in decades, why shouldn't they have a practice facility that rivals those of the league's elites? And, of course, there's a big free agent on the horizon soon.
This isn't the start of this saga. In January, Ted Leonsis expressed his desire to build a new practice facility for the teams near the Verizon Center (h/t Washington Post) similar to the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Ballston, where the Washington Capitals practice. As Brett Fuller, director of business development at the engineering and architecture firm AECOM, which worked on the Verizon Center when it was built, told Washington Post.
"If you’re a free agent, and you’re going to sign a contract for millions of dollars of a year, and you feel like that team is going to take care of you in all aspects of mind, body and convenience — you might choose that team,"
Where is the proposed new venue?
Between 11th St. and Rhode Island Ave., conveniently between the Shaw-Howard U and MT Vernon Sq/7th St-Convention Center metro stops on the green line.
Unfortunately, it would be put right over the Shaw Recreation Center/Cardozo Playground, a popular neighborhood spot. Officials say they'd try to relocate the parks. Discussions on the use of the site have been taking place for several years.
Who would pay?
The D.C. government would borrow the money for construction, but would eventually be paid back with money raised through an increased tax on tickets and concessions at Wizards games. The hope is that if Durant comes to D.C. in 2016, the money influx comes from increased ticket and concession sales.
The NBC report also suggested that the officials hope the practice facility would convince more players to actually live in the District. An influx of even a few of the team's highest paid players means more high-income residents paying D.C. taxes, which will help the city's bottom line.
But there's good reason to be skeptical of this play. The Wizards currently practice at Verizon Center, which is located in ... D.C. So, it's unclear how the new facility would provide a much greater incentive to actually live there.
This series of Curtis Harris (curator of the great @ProHoopsHistory account) sums up our doubt.
Q1) Where do the Washington Wizards currently practice? A) Verizon Center.— Curtis Harris (@curtismharris) November 10, 2014
Q2) Where is the Verizon Center located? A) Washington, District of Columbia— Curtis Harris (@curtismharris) November 10, 2014
Q3) So do Wizards players already have a practice facility to lure them in as DC residents? A) Yes. Questioning session over with.— Curtis Harris (@curtismharris) November 10, 2014
So the argument is that it pays for itself?
The city hopes so, but there are major obstacles that deserve attention.
The land for the new practice facility is city owned in one of the hottest real estate areas in the area. But giving that land up for this facility precludes its use for other purposes, including as a popular skate park, basketball courts and dog park. It'd also disrupt the overall neighborhood feel of the area because of construction and the loss of that community space.
The median home value in Logan Circle is $528,200. Home values have gone up five percent over the past year and Zillow predicts they will rise 0.8 percent within the next year. The median list price per square foot in Logan Circle is $604, which is higher than the Washington average of $449.
Finally, the annual loan repayments would take up space on the District's debt cap, which is a 12 percent limit on the portion of the budget that can be used for debt service. The problem: any money that takes up space under the debt cap precludes the District from borrowing for other important priorities. Given that the D.C. is already up against it's debt cap, and given other big projects that are forthcoming (Walter Reed, Hill East, to say nothing of D.C. United's possible new stadium site at Buzzard Point), the cost of borrowing for this project may prove to be a tough challenge to overcome.
A recent report by the City Council suggested the possibility of raising the debt cap at some point in the future. The author of that report? Current Mayor-Elect Muriel Bowser.
What are the alternatives?
Tyson’s Corner and Arlington are potential spots, too. The former seems to have more space than both Arlington and D.C., but is also far away from the Verizon Center. The latter has less space to breathe, though it is really a hop, skip and a jump away from downtown D.C. But if Ted Leonsis wants the practice facility closer to the Verizon Center, that’s what he’ll get.
Why will this happen?
There are a number of factors that could give this proposal momentum.
The land is located in the council district of Jack Evans, who was a huge proponent of Nationals Park and other local sports ventures.
UPDATE: We were wrong -- this isn't Evans' ward. Our apologies for the error.
The timing of the announcement is curious, since it comes a few days after the election and the defeat of David Catania. Catania, who will now be departing the council, was a fierce opponent of the Nationals stadium deal and famously hadn’t gone to a game at the stadium until the year’s playoffs. While his successor, Elissa Silverman, will be no pushover on the issue, she probably won't take as hard a stance.
One would assume that Leonsis and company would try to make it worth the while of the city and community to finance and host the facility. The event could be used by the community and city for major events and the team could offer a package of amenities to make up for the loss of the park.
This could also relate to DC’s effort to get the 2024 Olympics, a move for which Leonsis is a prominent proponent. If it is, that could help provide this with support from other well-heeled area residents that are behind the Olympics effort. Why else would the team need a 5,000 person capacity practice arena?
Why won't this happen?
After the city has forked out large amounts of money for Nationals Stadium and potentially a D.C. United Stadium, the voters may balk at being asked to finance yet another sports venue. The D.C. United deal is already starting to receive greater scrutiny in some corners, including from Mayor-Elect Bowser.
Perhaps more importantly, the proposed facility is likely to meet with great skepticism by people who live near and use the current park. The skate park, dog park, field and basketball courts are used by a diverse range of residents of all races and social classes. Even if a replacement is offered, it will take some time to build out and it will be hard to find a location in dense Shaw with a similar-sized footprint. It's going to be hard for the Wizards and the city to argue that a practice facility provides as much immediate community value as the park.
Besides removing the park, there will be all the attendant concerns with locating a large venue like this in the middle of a residential neighborhood. As always with these big projects, traffic and parking should loom large on the list of community concerns, along with whether this will aesthetically conform with the rest of the area.
It’s also fair to question if the concerns of the residents of wealthy Shaw will have greater ability to influence this project than those in Southwest have on the D.C. United project.
It'll also be interesting to see how a now-gentrified Shaw community's needs are viewed/heard/qualified vs Zards as compared to DCU sitch— Clinton Yates (@clintonyates) November 10, 2014
It's hard to say for sure. We have a new Mayor, some new City Council representatives and time for the situation to settle. If this article seems a little negative on the prospect, it's important to note that the community benefits to this proposal have yet to been put forth. There is a lot of back and forth to go through before this proposal become reality.
It’s hard to say for sure, but the Wizards are coming into their own right now. According to Forbes, the Wizards had a revenue of $122 million last year, a 22 percent increase from the year prior. Furthermore, the team is valued at $485 million, where as nine years ago it was worth just south of $275 million. (And Forbes' figures are often overly conservative... just ask Clippers fans). Though the team was reported to have lost money, increased attendance and interest in the team bodes well for the future.
Ted Leonsis is on a winning streak with the Wizards and the District as a whole is popping. Is this just a preliminary proposal or part of Leonsis' Olympic 2024 dreams? As the season progresses and the #KD2DC chants grow louder, expect to hear more concrete details about this practice facility.