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Monumental Sports basketball complex cost projections expected to rise by $10 million

Stewart W. Small

Last September, Monumental Sports announced with the D.C. government that a new practice facility and 5,000 multi-purpose arena would be built by 2018 at the former St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Southeast D.C. The new arena would be the home of the Mystics and a Wizards’ D-League affiliate team, while the practice facility would be used by all three teams, including the Wizards.

Nearly an entire year has passed since then. Construction has yet to begin. Yet the price tag is now expected to cost $65 million from a letter written to the D.C. Council by Gregory A. O’Dell, the president and CEO of Events DC, the owner of the new facility. This is a projected budget cost increase of $10 million over the original estimate.

According to Jonathan O’Connell of The Washington Post, $7.5 million of the increase is due to a reconfiguration of the arena. The original plan called for 5,000 seats in a single bowl.

Now, the arena will have two levels of seating. However, there will be fewer seats. The facility will now seat 4,200 people, though it’s possible that the final number may be higher. The purpose of the arena configuration is designed to make it more attractive for concerts and other events. Because of that, Monumental Sports has not been asked to pay more than the $4.46 million that they already have committed to.

The remaining $2.5 million of the projected increase is reserved for contingency costs.

The good news for the practice facility is that there is no report of a delay. However, the increased arena costs and a smaller arena size give cause to pause for the Mystics.

When the Mystics move to the facility — whether in 2018 or 2019 — they will play in the smallest arena in the WNBA. Currently, the smallest WNBA arena is the 7,000 seat College Park Center in Arlington, Texas, home to the Dallas Wings.

The new arena in Southeast was originally going to house 5,000, but with the seat count dropping, this won’t sit well with many, if not most Mystics fans.

In late September of last year, Lindsay Gibbs of Think Progress wrote about why they do not feel the same way Wizards fans do about the arena, or the practice facility:

The move is also being portrayed as a boon for the Mystics: Leonsis said the deal is “paying the women’s basketball team their due.”

“[F]or them to have their own arena, their own locker rooms, their own training facility, it makes them feel special. They’re not sharing,” Leonsis said at a press conference, pointing out that currently the Mystics have to share a locker room with touring musicians who perform at the Verizon Center.

“I’m really excited, and I can’t wait until it’s finished. It will be a full gym to play in, really loud.” Mystics player Emma Meesseman said in a video on the Mystics site, produced by the Leonsis-owned Monumental Sports & Entertainment. “I think it’s going to be great for the Mystics.”

But to Mystics fans, those familiar with sports economics, and anyone who looks deeper into the deal, it’s hard to understand how this is a good move for the Mystics.

“The idea that this helps the Mystics or the WNBA in any real way is ridiculous,” David Berri, a Professor of Economics at Southern Utah University, told ThinkProgress. “It sounds to me like they want a practice facility for the NBA team, they want the public to fund it, and they’re adding the Mystics as PR.”

I am sympathetic with the view and don’t disagree. The practice facility is for the Wizards, first and foremost. It’s nice that the Mystics and a D-League team will also hold their practices and training there, but let’s be honest. They won’t have this facility if the Wizards aren’t involved.

It is important to note that a smaller arena also has advantages. Mystics GM and Head Coach Mike Thibault said in our podcast earlier this spring that the Verizon Center does not give the Mystics a real homecourt advantage, even if the lower bowl was full every night. A smaller arena will be louder.

For example, Cameron Indoor Stadium is home to Duke’s men’s and women’s basketball teams and has a capacity of just over 9,300. It is one of the smaller basketball venues in the Atlantic Coast Conference, yet the teams are perennially among the nation’s best, and also enjoy one of the best homecourt advantages in college basketball.

Perhaps this is what Thibault and Monumental Sports envision the Mystics having once they move. Also, if the Mystics can become one of the WNBA’s contenders over the next several years, it will become a hotter ticket in town.

However, I also am a little wary of the Mystics moving to a smaller venue that is now smaller than originally planned. It will be interesting to see how this plays out with them, as well as their fans.