By Lew Gould
Ted Leonsis is now facing his biggest setback to date in an already-challenged effort to build a $2 billion arena and mixed-use development in Alexandria, Va., for his Washington Wizards and Capitals.
As Leonsis is seeking roughly $1.5 billion in state-issued bonds from Virginia to help fund the project, a key legislator has declared legislation backing the Monumental Sports and Entertainment plan is “not ready for prime time.” That opposition adds to growing residential resistance and marks the most serious broadside to date.
“The more we use the reputation of the commonwealth to finance billionaires’ projects, the more we risk not being able to finance our own projects,” said L. Louise Lucas, a prominent Virginia state senator and chair of that body’s finance and appropriations committee. Lucas is refusing to stage a hearing on the arena project in her committee, though a separate effort regarding the development remains alive in the Virginia House of Delegates.
But when asked whether the initiative was dead, Lucas said, “As far as I’m concerned it is. … As long as the full faith and credit of this commonwealth is backing this project, my answer continues to be an absolute no.”
Lucas then took direct aim at the integrity of Leonsis and MSE, tweeting, “As I said this morning in committee—if Monumental Sports will renege on its agreement with D.C., why would we ever believe they would not do the same to us?”
The arena project also serves as a microcosm of the deep political divides within Virginia. Both chambers of the state legislature are controlled by Democrats, but Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin is a rising figure in that party nationally and an ardent backer of the MSE development.
Even before these latest political battles, though, Leonsis was facing such opposition that he took the unusual step of publishing a nearly 2,600-word open letter about his reasoning behind leaving the 26-year-old Capital One Arena.
MSE said in a statement that it continues to have “healthy discussions” with Virginia legislators and pointed to projections from the development effort for “tens of thousands of new jobs, and billions in revenue and economic impact.”