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Rumors of a Washington Wizards training facility in Shaw may have sparked an outcry from neighbors, but the team’s owner insists the community should be welcoming it—-hypothetical as it may be at this point—-as a neighborhood and economic asset.
Press coverage of a potential basketball facility on the site of park space at 11th Street NW and Rhode Island Avenue surprised city officials, who said negotiations for a facility there hadn’t progressed in recent months and were still very preliminary. (The Wizards are reportedly also looking at sites in Ballston and Crystal City.) Team owner Ted Leonsis confirms as much in a post today on his “Ted’s Take” blog that aims to set the record straight on the progress of the practice facility—-and make the case for why D.C. and other jurisdictions should be fighting to land it.
“Recently there has been a flurry of reports, articles, tweets and commentary about our plans to build a Wizards training facility,” Leonsis writes. “We have previously not commented publicly because we felt it was premature.” (That’s true: A team spokesman did not respond to a request for comment for this story or previous ones.) “While we have done some legwork, we are in the very early stages of a complex and comprehensive project that has a goal of being an asset for our team and also the community.”
The community, though, has yet to be persuaded that a practice facility would be an asset. Shaw neighbors have objected to any plan that would compromise the skate park, dog park, or other public spaces at the Rhode Island Avenue site, and questioned a potential city investment of tens of millions of dollars, which could be paid back with a surcharge on ticket sales. But Leonsis says a facility would benefit both the team and the neighborhood.
According to Leonsis, 18 National Basketball Association teams have or will soon have a standalone practice facility. “At Verizon Center we currently have only one practice court, no space for seating (we can’t adequately open it up to public) and a shared weight room, and the court was marginal at best when it was constructed 17 years ago,” he writes. “We need a fully developed training and conditioning space that meets the needs to today’s athletes.”
Leonsis points to the Washington Capitals’ practice facility in Ballston, the Kettler Capitals Iceplex, which opened in 2006, to argue that a Wizards facility would encourage players to live nearby. “At this point I believe all of our Capitals players live in Virginia—-we’ve even had players and coaches live close enough to walk to the training facility—-and they along with our staff enjoy the Arlington area,” he writes. “They eat, shop, ride Metro and take advantage of all the great opportunities in the vicinity of Kettler.”
Mayor Vince Gray has made a similar case: that a practice facility could bring Wizards’ income-tax dollars to the District (which can’t tax non-residents, even if they play their home games in downtown D.C.). The trouble is that the team already practices in the city, and that hasn’t stopped a number of its stars from living in the suburbs. It’s not clear how a new practice facility would change the equation.
Leonsis also writes that “the local [Ballston] area has seen tremendous growth in recent years. The Ballston Common Mall, where Kettler Capitals Iceplex is located, is undergoing a redevelopment with plans for a residential tower, street-facing retail shops and restaurants and a pedestrian plaza.” But Shaw is not lacking for development: Recent growth has brought a new apartments and offices, a muffin shop, a sherry bar, and $15 cups of coffee.
A facility could also be used for public functions, Leonsis suggests, although he says reports of a 5,000-seat arena are wrong, and that such a space “would not have been feasible in at least one of the locations mentioned”—-possibly Shaw. After a location is selected, Leonsis says, it would take 18 to 24 months to build the facility.