The Wizards and Capitals’ departure from DC deals a gut punch to Washington’s economy that the city cannot afford. Beyond hometown pride, Capital One Arena contributes over $25 million yearly in tax revenue and it’s an anchor tenant driving foot traffic to downtown businesses decimated by the pandemic. The financial impact is dire and means the District will have less money for schools, programs that fight poverty, and city services. On Wednesday, Virginia’s governor touted the creation of 30,000 new jobs from attracting Monumental Sports to the Potomac Yards campus. That’s DC’s loss. And it comes just after the mayor has let the Council know that DC is facing a budget shortfall of millions of dollars–even as our services, schools, public housing, WMATA, and more remain chronically underfunded.
This self-inflicted disaster lays bare Mayor Bowser’s lack of vision and leadership when it mattered most. For years, warning signs flashed as owner Ted Leonsis voiced frustrations over general lack of engagement from the administration and reluctance to invest in modernizing Capital One Arena. Many business owners, large and small, express similar frustrations about engagement. Rather than address these concerns in partnership with a crucial downtown stakeholder, Bowser fixated on a new Commanders stadium complex as the clock wound down on the Wizards and Capitals. Her inaction reveals the lack of an economic strategy tailored to post-pandemic realities, an opening that Virginia exploited. A belated and reactive $500 million offer could not erase years of neglect that allowed the teams to seriously entertain leaving DC.
Reversing the economic spiral requires the mayor to finally prioritize downtown’s recovery by rallying partners to envision a lively downtown that operates 24/7, not just on weekdays during work hours. We must lay the foundation to make downtown DC an entertainment and cultural destination, as well as a neighborhood marked by inclusive prosperity. A place that people of all income levels can call home.
The painful departure of two of our sports teams does not have to spell doom. With urgency and vision, we can unite behind collaborative solutions, transforming loss into opportunity. As Chair of the Housing Committee, I am holding a hearing at the beginning of next year on the future of downtown.
There are no quick fixes, but I am committed to rising to meet this challenge, nurturing a dynamic downtown community that future generations will be proud of. If we meet this moment with courage and creativity, our brightest days are ahead.