Jessie Milom is standing near the entrance of The St. James, a 450,000-square-foot sports and wellness complex located in Fairfax County, when her friend and workout partner Dallas Ingram walks up next to her. The two have been taking Kazaxe dance fitness classes across the street since the beginning of the year and were intrigued by the new, warehouse-sized building that just sprouted up.
As Milom, 32, surveys the inside of the building on its grand opening this Saturday in Springfield, she can’t help but feel overwhelmed.
“This place looks amazing,” she says. “It has everything. … It has something for everyone.”
Ingram, 26, agrees: “I could play basketball, get back to my roots. Or maybe become a gymnast. Or try squash.”
The brainchild of co-founders and co-chief executives Kendrick Ashton and Craig Dixon, The St. James is aiming to be the premium destination for sports and fitness enthusiasts in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, the same way that Chelsea Piers in Manhattan advertises itself as “New York’s Ultimate Playground.”
Ashton and Dixon both speak in hyperbolic terms—the word “premium”is often used—about their visions for the complex.
“People, we think, are screaming out for an aggregated, premium, high-quality experience because they’re doing many of these activities in very high numbers,” says Ashton, a 42-year-old D.C. native. “But often the quality, the experience is compromised by a number of factors. We believe this new format is going to really transform how people do this stuff.”
On this Saturday afternoon, the co-founders are wearing dark blue suits and are constantly being stopped by the thousands of area residents who arrive to check out the facility, which includes basketball courts, a swimming pool, a rock climbing wall, squash courts, an ice rink, and an indoor turf field. Ken Tyler, the director of athletics who oversees all the sports programs and sports staff, says The St. James will offer 1,200 sports programs throughout its 30-sport offering. There may be plans to add more.
“We will respond to demands of the public,” says Tyler. “If there’s a group that presents an opportunity—a 2 a.m. soccer league, for example—we’re going to listen.“
Among those in attendance is Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin, one of the “founding members” of The St. James. Ovechkin is on hand to help coach the center’s under-10 youth hockey travel team. He says he can see himself coming here during the off-season to train or bring his family, which now includes a newborn son.
“It’s a great place to spend time with the family,” says Ovechkin. “You can see people give their heart to the facility, to everything. On the ice, I was shocked. I was a little bit shocked. It’s a great place. The more places like this that’s going to be in the country, all over the place, it’s going to help raise sport, be healthy, and just have fun.”
The St. James opened exactly a week before the Entertainment and Sports Arena is set to have its ribbon cutting in Ward 8. That 4,200-seat sports venue will host the home games of the Washington Mystics and the new NBA G-League team, the Capital City Go-Go, and serve as the practice facility for the Wizards.
While the two complexes serve different purposes, the timing of the grand openings is not lost on Dixon, who attended Episcopal High School in Alexandria and met Ashton at the College of William & Mary, where they both studied.
“I think it demonstrates the demand for sports in this town, sports experiences in this town,” says Dixon, 42. “I think it’s great. We have one of the most active communities in the country. … I think it demonstrates that this town has a real passion for sports and being active that wasn’t being met before. Now we have lots of new options people can check out. We hope most of those people come to The St. James.”
The sports programs at The St. James will not require membership, but members will receive a discount. Monthly dues cost $169 for adults (19 to 64 years old), $125 for students (19 to 24 years old), and $100 for junior students (under 18).
Ashton, who worked as an investment banker, and Dixon, a mergers and acquisitions lawyer, helped pay for the privately financed complex with help from a real estate investment firm. Neither co-owner would disclose how much it cost to build The St. James.
“We don’t disclose that,” says Dixon. “It was a considerable investment, a significant investment, and I think the quality of the complex demonstrates as much.”
Another example of the team’s ambitious goals for The St. James lies in the name, which was inspired by the royal court of the British monarchy, the Court of St James’s.
“We wanted a brand that was premium, elevated, had a sense of timelessness, was enduring, was inherently trustworthy, and had the kind of gravitas necessary to convey these complexes would be destinations,” Ashton says. “We also very much want these complexes to be the third place for people in all the markets and communities we serve. People spend a lot of time, of course, at work, and school, and a lot of time at home. We want the St. James to be that third place. In that way, we want to be the center of the universe.”
It’s not meant to be subtle and can sometimes feel over the top. But that’s the way Ashton and his partners want it. There are already plans to open a second destination in the northern suburbs of Chicago in early 2021. And they don’t expect to stop there.