Community Gets NBA Teams, Economic Boost

Mayor Muriel Bowser, Councilwoman LaRuby May, ward 8 community members and NBA officials celebrate new arena agreement.  Photo by Brelaun Douglas, HUNS 

WASHINGTON—Just as few blocks from Congress Height Metro Station, on the site of St. Elizabeth’s, a former mental hospital, a new day is coming, according to city officials and civic leaders.,

The aged campus will be turned into a new state-of the-art WNBA arena for the Washington Mystics women’s basketball team and training facility for the Washington Wizards, its male counterpart.

 Mayor Muriel Bowser and Ward 8 Councilmember LaRuby May made the announcement Wednesday, Sept. 16, to the applause of a crowd that included Mystics players Natasha Cloud, Stefanie Dolson and Emma Meeseman and Wizards star Bradley Beal and NBA all-star John Wall.

The facility is about more than just basketball, Bowser said.  It’s about change and growth for a community that desperately needs it.  Ward 8 is consistently the city’s poorest district

 “It brings me great pleasure as mayor to deliver that game changer, which will allow us to attract other developments, other amenities and get those projects started too,” Bowser said. “We’re going to create 600 construction jobs and 300 permanent jobs.”

Construction on the 5,000-seat arena is slated to begin in 2016 with a completion date of 2018.  The cost will be $55 million, with $23 million contributed from the city and the remainder from Events DC, the official convention and sports authority for the District of Columbia, and Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the company that owns the teams.

Work training programs will be created to help prepare residents for the jobs, as well as internship programs to expose students to careers in sports, entertainment and hospitality, Bowser said. The arena is expected to generate more than $4 million annually and a total of $90 million over the 19-year lease, she said. The biggest draw is the stadium’s size, she said.

“We don’t have a 5,000 seat arena in the city,” she said, “and so there is demand for shows ranging from concerts to children’s programs where we can draw a 5,000 seat crowd without competing with some of our other arenas.”

 Mystics President Sheila Johnson, Monumental Sports & Entertainment  founder and CEO Ted Leonsis, Deputy Mayor of Planning & Economic Development Brian Kenner  and President and CEO of  Events DC  Greg O’Dell  all expressed their belief that the project will serves to create a more economically viable Ward 8.

“This investment will help revive and renew southeast D.C. and bring new economic vitality to the community,” said Johnson, co-founder with Robert Johnson of Black Entertainment Television.

“We’ve seen it happen. Just look at the impact the Verizon Center has had on the Chinatown area. I know we can see it happen here too with jobs and growth.”

May said she is optimistic about the project’s impact.

“This arena and basketball will cut a path for opportunities at St. Elizabeth’s that we all will travel as our community moves to the bigger than,” the councilwoman said. .

Patricia Bobo, a Ward 8 resident since 1972 who attended the conference with her 3-year-oldgrandson, was ecstatic about the news.

 “I think it’s a good thing, because we are a portion of a city and we deserve to have everything that other parts of the city have in order to be a whole city,” Bobo said. “This is a good start and I love it.”

Jimmie Jenkins, another long-time Ward 8 resident, said he believes the arena will help to improve his community.

 “Thank you Mayor Bowser and thank you Councilmember May for your leadership and for using my favorite sport, basketball, to bring more opportunities to my community,” Jenkins said.