Muriel Bowser announces the Wizards practice facility deal in September
Muriel Bowser announces the Wizards practice facility deal in September

Muriel Bowser‘s proposal for a Wizards practice facility on Congress Heights’ St. Elizabeths campus got a positive airing at a community meeting last night. Aside from the guy who called it “witchcraft.”

Despite mostly welcoming the practice facility and arena for the WNBA’s Mystics, Ward 8 residents fretted that a business boom around the new site could push them out. One woman recalled a recent visit to 14th Street NW, once the city’s red-light district and now more like its tapas district.

“I don’t want Ward 8 to look like that,” she said.

To combat the sort of neighborhood shuffle that Verizon Center brought to Chinatown, several meeting attendees proposed declaring the area a “displacement-free zone.” The idea is that the “zone” would feature a years-long moratorium on property tax increases for small businesses and residences.

“This is the last frontier for our communities,” said Kymone Freeman, We Act Radio’s programming director.

LL wasn’t able to find an example of a similar property assessment moratorium elsewhere in the District. It’s also not clear how a property tax cap would help renters, who made up nearly 80 percent of the ward’s residents in 2010.

Randall Boe, an executive vice president at Wizards’ owner Ted Leonsis‘ Monumental Sports, disputed that his company was getting off easy on the deal. Under the terms proposed by Bowser in September, Monumental will put in $5 million toward construction, while the city and Events D.C. pay a combined $50 million. Monumental will also fund $10 million of neighborhood investments.

“This is not a free ride that we’re getting,” Boe said.

Ward 8 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Mary Cuthbert didn’t mind how much the deal would cost the District.

“If they don’t spend it on me, they’re going to spend it on somebody else,” Cuthbert said. “We deserve it.”

Photo by Will Sommer