Residents from across the region filled the bleachers at Charles Houston Recreation Center Jan. 27 as Alexandria City Council held a town hall meeting for the proposed Potomac Yard Entertainment District as part of a series of community events regarding the $2 billion project.
Members of City Council spoke briefly about the project with the majority of the two-hour meeting spent with Council members answering questions submitted by attendees.
“We can’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” said vice Mayor Amy Jackson. “We have to understand that this will provide a phenomenal tax base. We can’t have taxes primarily on the backs of residents anymore.”
The town hall meeting was part of a listening series of events slated to engage the community and provide better understanding of the benefits of the project.
Groups in opposition to the project were on hand including the Coalition to Stop the Arena and Don’t Mute DC.
“This is just a show,” said former vice mayor Andrew Macdonald of the Coalition to Stop the Arena. “City council is not interested in hearing what we really think about the project. They are just sort of doing this to make it look like they are engaging with the public.”
Questions from the public ranged from transportation and housing issues to impacts on the quality of life.
“The arena will be a catalyst for other development,” said Council member Aliya Gaskins when asked about the impact on affordable housing.
Legislation to form the Sports and Entertainment Authority that would own the land and facilities as part of Monumental Sports & Entertainment’s proposed campus at Potomac Yard was introduced Jan. 26 in the Virginia General Assembly. Chairman of the Appropriations Committee Del. Luke Torian of Prince William County (House Bill 1514) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Surovell of Fairfax County (Senate Bill 718) will serve as bill patrons.
Monumental Sports owner Ted Leonsis penned an open letter Jan. 25 touting the benefits of the project to Alexandria and the region.
“At the heart of this decision is my belief that this project will accomplish two critical objectives,” Leonsis wrote. “Provide our fans with the best experience in all of sports … and establish a best-in-class set of facilities for our athletes and employees. This will give us the best chance to be successful on the ice, on the court, on the airwaves, and in business settings.”
Leonsis detailed the progress to date working with city and state officials as well as developers.
“Multiple traffic analyses are underway to determine infrastructure needs related to the building of the Entertainment District,” Leonsis wrote. “We also believe this investment will be a catalyst for supporting and improving Metro, which benefits residents and businesses in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC.”
In addition to the town hall, listening sessions continue Feb. 1 with a focus on transportation and traffic management, followed by a session Feb. 8 to focus on small business and economic opportunity. Both sessions will be virtual with registration available at www.alexandriaecon.org. A link to the Jan. 27 town hall is also available.
“Fundamentally people should be able to speak and give their opinion but that is not what Council is doing with these sessions,” Macdonald added. “They are trying to control the narrative and not really have a real discourse on the pros and cons of this project. It’s a farce and a sham.”