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Plans were presented Oct. 27 for a new sports facility for the Washington Wizards and Mystics on the campus of St. Elizabeths East. (Photo credit: dc.gov)

Officials from Events DC, the District’s official tourism agency, and the office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, presented plans Oct. 27 for a sports facility to be built on the campus of St. Elizabeths East at the R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center.

“I am so excited about this project,” Mary Cuthbert, a longtime advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 8 and an outspoken advocate on behalf of the ward, said. “The Department of Transportation needs to come to us to explain some of the concerns we have about traffic but this great.”

Taking the matter personally in the context of the facility, Cuthbert said “that if don’t spend it on me, they will spend it on someone else.”

On Sept. 16, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and Ted Leonsis, the primary owner of the Washington Wizards and the Washington Mystics, announced the construction of a 5,000 seat arena on a parcel of St. Elizabeths East near the Congress Heights Metro Station. The facility will serve as a practice spot for both the Wizards and the Mystics and the Mystics’ arena for games as well as its headquarters.

“This facility will serve as a catalyst to transform this area of town and this entire ward,” Randall Boe, the executive vice president and general counsel of Monumental Sports and Entertainment, said. Boe said that Monumental will create a $10 million community fund for Ward 8 residents, non-profits and businesses.

The facility, set to open in 2018, will also serve as a venue for entertainment programs and other athletic and cultural events, such as music concerts, conventions and meetings.

Greg O’Dell, the president of Events DC, said his agency will put $27 million into project and the District government has agreed to fund the project at $23 million. He said the sports facility is one major part of the re-development of St. Elizabeths East and his office is working with Catherine Buell, the executive director of St. Elizabeths East, to see that this project is in concert with the overall plan for the site.

However, O’Dell made it clear that Ward 8 residents will have plenty of input. “This is why we are here tonight to get feedback from the community,” he said.

Buell said St. Elizabeths East is on track to build an Innovation Hub that could be anchored by Microsoft and other high-tech companies. The hub would spur the creation of new technology-related businesses and jobs, to create economic opportunity at all skill levels for residents.  Additionally, Buell said plans for affordable housing and retail opportunities are still in the works.

Brenda Jones, a civic activist in Ward 8, said she is thrilled the sports facility is coming to the east of the Anacostia River, but that O’Dell needs to take one more step. “I think you should make this presentation to the schools,” she said.

Rosalind Styles, a Ward 8 entrepreneur, suggested that a formal memorandum of understanding (MOU) be drafted by the community members on issues such as hiring ward residents and small business procurement and that it be presented to the developers of the facility. “Mary Cuthbert played a key role in drafting MOUs for the community’s benefit with D.C.’s Unified Communications System and the St. Elizabeths project and we should do the same with this,” Styles said. “We should put our hands and heads together to come up with a strategy for this.”

Ward 8 businessman Phinis Jones said the facility will change the physical, business and cultural landscape of Ward 8.

Some residents, such as We Act Radio co-founder Kymore Freeman, said the facility might not be a good fit for some ward residents. “I want this area of Congress Heights to be declared a ‘displacement zone’ before the arena is finished,” Freeman said. “We want a cap on property taxes for all existing Ward 7 and 8 businesses and we need a MOU to see that people will not be forced out of here because of this arena.”