- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 4, 2004

The D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission is on target to produce its first operating profit in six years when its fiscal year ends Sept.30.

Plagued for years by overspending, aging facilities in RFK Stadium and the D.C. Armory and often sluggish booking activity, the commission produced operating deficits exceeding $2million each of the past four years and $5.36million last year.

But aggressive attempts to rein in the spending and drop deeply unprofitable events from its calendar and political pressure from the D.C. Council have generated a sharp turnaround. Commission officials are projecting an operating surplus of $336,000 for fiscal year 2004.

“This is a huge turnaround for us, absolutely huge,” said chairman Mark Tuohey, a District lawyer who assumed control of the commission in January. “We have implemented an entirely new infrastructure, put in some important cost controls and just become much more strategic in the way we’re going forward. We’re now on a much different course, one that will never be reversed in our view.”

The final financial report still will show a noncash net loss for the year when asset depreciation costs of about $2million are included, as required by accounting rules. But council members, many of whom were highly critical of the sports commission when its fiscal outlook darkened, are pleased with the current situation. The quasi-public entity receives no city appropriations.

“I applaud their efforts, I really do,” said Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat and a vocal opponent of the commission’s previous regime, led by former executive director Bobby Goldwater and ex-chairman John Richardson. “A year ago, they were looking at the possibility of coming to us for money, which would have been a disaster. But Mark came in with a plan, and they’ve done a very good job.”

To be certain, the fiscal state of the sports commission remains a tentative affair. Aside from typical, recurring activities like D.C. United soccer and traveling circuses, significant events at either city-owned facility are still rare. The Armory needs a major upgrade to its facade and much of its interior, and a $25million effort to do that work is in its early stages.

RFK still has a significant chance of being torn down or turned into something else around 2010, when both United and the Montreal Expos — assuming the baseball team moves to the Washington area — are in new facilities of their own.

But the arrival of baseball could change the commission’s financial outlook radically, as could plans to turn the Armory into a year-round event facility. The Armory typically does not book events during the summer because of a lack of air conditioning. Not since the second Washington Senators franchise left in 1971 would 43-year-old RFK be home to so many events in a given year.

“Baseball is obviously a huge deal for us, but the new structure we’re developing is not dependent on baseball,” Tuohey said. “The platform of what we’re offering [is] for soccer, for youth baseball, for events at the Armory. That’s all changing and will continue to change.”

Among the events shut down by the sports commission was the highly unprofitable Fright House Halloween show, which ran for just one year (2002) and drew poorly. The sports commission spent more than $1million on props and equipment for the show and recently auctioned off those assets for $125,000.

In other commission business, officials are talking with the reformed American Basketball Association about possibly creating a District-based franchise to play at the Armory. The ABA, in the 1970s a rival pro league to the NBA, is now a minor league planning a significant expansion to more than 30 cities in both the United States and Mexico.

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