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D.C. mayor touts bond rating in arena bid

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D.C. mayor touts bond rating in arena bid


A proposed plan to build a $2 billion arena complex in Northern Virginia through a public-private partnership that would move two major league sports franchises out of Washington D.C .is attracting pushback from state legislators, local residents, and Washington’s mayor who’s offering $500 million in renovations to the team’s current home.  

“The city would leverage our triple-A bond rating to borrow without raising taxes or displacing any planned capital projects,” said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, via an op-ed in The Washington Post last Friday.  “The result would be a new, more profitable, state-of-the-art urban arena, with improved corporate suites and more and better entertainment options.”  

Last week, the Virginia House Appropriations Committee voted 17-3 to advance legislation to create a stadium authority that would issue about $1.5 billion of bonds. The revenue for paying down the debt would come from ticket taxes, parking fees, concession taxes, income taxes levied on athletes performing at the arena, and naming rights.

“The city would leverage our AAA bond rating to borrow without raising taxes or displacing any planned capital projects,” said Democratic DC Mayor Muriel Bowser. “The result would be a new, more profitable, state-of-the-art urban arena, with improved corporate suites and more and better entertainment options.”  

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Despite the vote, opposition remains. Democratic State Sen. L. Louise Lucas, who chairs the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, was quoted on X (formerly known as Twitter) Monday saying, “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.”

Lucas represents Portsmouth, one of the cities making up the Hampton Roads area which charges tolls for several water crossings that thread the area together. Tolls went up in January as Lucas searches for relief in Richmond.    

The plan for a new arena complex includes underground parking, practice facilities, offices, media studios, a fan plaza and a performing arts venue. Future development is also being eyed for the area on the western border of the site which is dominated by strip shopping centers and surface parking lots.

The site is near the desirable Del Ray neighborhood in Alexandria where opposition has arisen due to traffic and noise concerns along with skepticism about the complex generating enough revenue to service the debt. 

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“We believe along with a lot of sports economists, who believe that most of these projects generally are money losers, and don’t generate anywhere near the revenue that they claim they will,” said local resident Andrew Macdonald. Macdonald is a former Alexandria vice mayor and former city council member now working as organizer of the Coalition to Stop the Arena at Potomac Yard.  “Hence, at some point, somebody’s going to owe something.”

The proposed deal was officially announced last December by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Ted Leonsis, whose firm, Monumental Sports & Entertainment owns the Washington Capitals of the National Hockey League and the NBA’s Washington Wizards. 

If the deal happens, the teams will move across the river to brand new facilities built from scratch on a 12-acre site in Potomac Yard, a former rail hub that straddles Arlington County and the city of Alexandria. 

The arena jockeying happening in the D.C. area reflects a national trend of metropolitan areas tapping public financing to build new sports facilities that offer luxury class amenities. 

In Nashville, the NFL’s Tennessee Titans will be getting a new home thanks to a combination of over $700 million in local bonds and $500 million in state paper. Their current stadium is still on the hook for $30 million in public debt. 

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Last December the Indianapolis City Council voted to finance Eleven Park, a $1.5 billion mixed-use development anchored by a minor-league soccer stadium, that will be partially funded through bonds issued by the Indianapolis Local Public Improvement Bond Bank.

The D.C. mayor also alluded to existing lease requirements that may come into play. “We intend to keep our end of the bargain and enforce the leases with Monumental that require the Wizards and Capitals to play at the arena through 2047 and the (WNBA) Mystics to play in Congress Heights through 2037,” she said in the op-ed. 



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OKC Transportation Representatives Prepare For D.C. Visit, Bringing Focus To Upcoming Projects

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OKC Transportation Representatives Prepare For D.C. Visit, Bringing Focus To Upcoming Projects


EMBARK Executive Director Jason Ferbrache will travel to Washington, D.C. on Friday to meet with Oklahoma’s congressional delegation and representatives from other federal agencies, including the Federal Railroad Administration.

Ferbrache gave a quick forecast for the meeting during his report at the Regional Transportation Authority meeting on Wednesday. 

The RTA is currently pushing multiple projects. The most significant would be a metro commuter rail from Edmond to Norman, which already has strong backing from its member cities. “We want to tell the story about all the good work that the RTA is accomplishing here locally,” Ferbrache said. “So, we want to brief them on some of the projects we’ve made progress on.”

Federal dollars for an eventual commuter rail would require a match at the local level. Former Governor Brad Henry, chair of the RTA, previously told News 9 that a ballot initiative for local funding could be brought before metro voters in late 2024 or early 2025. 

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“We certainly want to plant the seed,” Ferbrache said when asked if he would discuss federal funding opportunities while in D.C. “We want to talk about the magnitude of the project and how we are working diligently to satisfy all the federal requirements early on so we can be eligible for funding in the future.”

During Wednesday’s meeting, updates were also shared on the RTA’s west and airport corridor projects. Ideas are still in the preliminary development phase, but feedback from a virtual town hall last month was shared with the board.

Consultants for the group said they are still exploring whether routes to the airport would be by light rail or bus. Presenters told the group some streets on the route might be too small to support the guideways needed for a light rail.

Expansions in that direction might have a slight overlap with current plans for MAPS 4 Bus Rapid Transit, which is separate from the RTA’s efforts. The group examined several different ideas for routes, with a discussion on maximizing connectivity between different transportation services.

A resolution, which would have expressed intent to reimburse member cities for land purchases for the eventual commuter rail project, was postponed to next month’s meeting with the expectation member city councils would have more time to review the language.

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Future ambitions would make the Oklahoma City Santa Fe Transit Hub the focal point of transportation expansion. A spokesperson for EMBARK confirmed Oklahoma City would base its commuter rail station at that pre-existing location. Norman and Edmond are the other two member cities that would likely need to purchase land.





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Gold's Gym Opening this Spring | Georgetown DC – Explore Georgetown in Washington, DC

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Gold's Gym Opening this Spring | Georgetown DC – Explore Georgetown in Washington, DC


Gold’s Gym is opening this spring at Georgetown Park (3270 M St NW), and is offering a discount for a limited number of memberships. Choose your plan, from a $39.99 bi-weekly option for a 12-month contract with no dues until opening or a month-to-month membership option for an extra $10 per month. Amenities and benefits include free member parking, luxury showers and infrared saunas, personal training services, unlimited group exercise classes, a recovery room, Gym80 fitness equipment, access to 20+ DC metro gyms, and a travel pass to 700+ gyms.



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Do Something: The week of February 19, 2024

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Do Something: The week of February 19, 2024


Photo by Dan Malouff and edited by Dan Reed.

Weekly, Regional Policy Director Dan Reed and DC Policy Director Alex Baca will share with you an action you can take in the immediate future that has the potential, sometimes great and sometimes small, to increase the number of homes in our region, decrease the trips people take by car, make all of it safer, and not screw people over in the process. This week: get hyped for the new Comp Plan; Moore Housing and a silly bill in Maryland; and the ongoing saga of accessory apartments in Virginia.

If you have any questions, email dreed@ggwash.org about Maryland and Virginia Do Somethings, and abaca@ggwash.org about Washington, DC, Do Somethings—or, about whatever you want to talk about.

DC

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The Office of Planning (OP)’s performance oversight hearing is this week and, while I don’t think you need to testify, I think it’s worth watching. It starts at 9:30 am on Thursday, February 22, and I’m looking forward to any additional details that OP might provide on its newly released “Outlook for the District’s Next Comprehensive Plan,” which it’s calling “DC 2050.” That’s right: We’re rewriting it! It should be done by the end of 2027. I, personally, am thrilled. —AB

Maryland

Tuesday was the House hearing for Governor Moore’s Moore Housing bills. I was expecting a production, which it was—it’s not every day the Governor testifies for one of his own bills, and the hearing room was so crowded I sat on the floor. What I didn’t expect was to hear so much support from elected officials for the Housing Expansion and Affordability Act, which would require them to allow larger, denser housing developments with more dedicated affordable homes and a streamlined approval process. Officials representing all of Maryland’s major cities and big counties spoke in favor, or with some amendments. A representative from the city of Havre de Grace, north of Baltimore, was one of the few opponents.

The other day, I watched electeds in Rockville–which controls its own planning and zoning, unlike other communities in Montgomery County–discuss what the city’s position on Moore Housing should be. They’ll likely support it: councilmembers including our five endorsees agreed on the need for more homes, but not about having fewer public hearings. Councilmember Kate Fulton would like the approval process to go faster, while Councilmember Izola Shaw said disadvantaged communities need time to give feedback. Mayor Monique Ashton pointed out that public input has made some projects better, but councilmember Marissa Valeri noted that the people who speak at public hearings don’t speak for everyone.

“It’s easy to get people out [to public hearings] when they oppose something. It’s really really hard to get people out when they support something,” Valeri said.

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That’s the argument behind the Governor’s bills: the residents who show up to these meetings usually don’t reflect the whole community and use this process to block or delay things they dislike, leading to our current housing shortage. With that in mind, Maryland legislators are working on some other bills (that only apply to Montgomery County) that take away chances for a vocal minority to block things–and one that would give them much more power.

HB 424 (formerly MC 3-24) would overturn a 1950s law that requires extra hearings for public housing proposals, which residents have used for decades to block affordable housing near them. And HB 1300 (formerly MC 8-24) would overturn decades-old property covenants that block homes that zoning already allows, like apartments–another tool neighbors have used to fight development. We support both of these bills, and you can find more info and our testimony here.

Then there’s HB 1364, sponsored by Senator Ben Kramer, who you may remember from a now-dead bill that would have stripped the Planning Department’s ability to talk about sidewalks or bike lanes. Now he’s back with a bill that would force Montgomery County to resurrect the People’s Counsel, a lawyer whose job is to represent “the public interest” in planning matters. The bill’s loudest supporters are organizations like the Montgomery County Civic Federation and the people who don’t like cell phone towers, you know, the type of folks who already show up to public hearings a lot.

There hasn’t been a People’s Counsel since 2008 in part because as we discussed above, the public is pretty diverse, and has lots of different and sometimes contradictory interests. Last year, following some other unsuccessful bills, Kramer did help create a workgroup that made good recommendations for how to make Montgomery County’s planning process more accessible to the public. The People’s Counsel wasn’t one of them. We hope that, like Brokencyde, it remains stuck in 2008.

If you have a few minutes and live in Montgomery County:

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  • Find your delegates and email them to say you support HB 424 and HB 1300, but oppose HB 1364 and the People’s Counsel.

If you have a few minutes and live anywhere else in Maryland:

If you have a few more minutes and live in Maryland, show your support for Moore Housing:

Virginia

It’s go time: After the Virginia Senate revived a bill that would legalize accessory apartments across the state, the House–which attempted to push this to next year–gets to take it up again. Thursday morning, a House committee will again review that bill, HB 900, which we’re supporting alongside our friends in the Commonwealth Housing Coalition. Meanwhile, Democrats in the House are caucusing all day Wednesday, meaning they’ll be talking about this a lot.

If you have a few minutes today (Wednesday):

  • Cheat sheet–three of those committee members represent Northern Virginia: Delegates Atoosa Reaser (Loudoun), Laura Jane Cohen (Fairfax), and Candi Mundon King (Prince William and Stafford).

Your support of GGWash enables us, Dan and Alex, to do our jobs. Our jobs are knowing how development and planning works in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. If it’s appropriate to take action to advance our goals, which we hope you share, we can let you know what will have the most impact, and how to do it well. You can make a financial contribution to GGWash here.

Dan Reed (they/them) is Greater Greater Washington’s regional policy director, focused on housing and land use policy in Maryland and Northern Virginia. For a decade prior, Dan was a transportation planner working with communities all over North America to make their streets safer, enjoyable, and equitable. Their writing has appeared in publications including Washingtonian, CityLab, and Shelterforce, as well as Just Up The Pike, a neighborhood blog founded in 2006. Dan lives in Silver Spring with Drizzy, the goodest boy ever.

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Alex Baca is the DC Policy Director at GGWash. Previously the engagement director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth and the general manager of Cuyahoga County’s bikesharing system, she has also worked in journalism, bike advocacy, architecture, construction, and transportation in DC, San Francisco, and Cleveland. She has written about all of the above for CityLab, Slate, Vox, Washington City Paper, and other publications.

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