- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2016


John Hinckley, the man who tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan, is out. The NBA and WNBA basketball teams are in — and add to that list whatever other “entertainment” proposals that pop into the minds of Events DC staffers.

That’s essentially the lineup for the proposed sports facility to be built on the grounds of St. Elizabeths Hospital in a downtrodden part of Southeast, the part Hinckley has called home since 1982.

The sports facility does not yet have a name, but it does have a new price tag. In September, when the plan was rolled out by sports and entertainment mogul Ted Leonsis and Mayor Muriel Bowser, the cost of the facility was $55 million: $5 million from the private Leonsis coffers, $23 from the city’s public coffers and $27 million from the hotel and restaurant tax wallets handed to Events DC.

As the city’s official barker, Events DC now wants to downsize the facility from 5,000 seats to about 4,200 seats, redesign the bowl-like facility for two levels of seats instead of one level and increase projected costs by $10 million — to an estimated $65 million.

Why this is happening for a sports facility expected to open in a densely populated neighborhood in 2018 is not shocking. Officials who handle the public purse strings for sports and other entertainment venues are just not comfortable with sunshine, and it’s not in their best interests anyway.

It’s why they have barkers.

Besides, Miss Bowser called the project a “BFD,” which is shorthand “big *!?+$#@ deal.” And it is a BFD because the facility, if built, will be the most crucial new development in that rough-and-tumble part of Southeast called Congress Heights in two lifetimes. If it opens in 2018, it also will be a boon for a Bowser re-election bid.

Also, to further those two points, if the men and women there can become gainfully employed, they might be able to take care of themselves and their families, and actually be able to afford tickets to see the Mystics and the Wizards.

This is where the 13 members of the D.C. Council need to step in. They need to look at what was initially proposed and compare it with the new plan — after all, the circus barker promises a bearded lady but delivers a man wearing an Abe Lincoln-like fake.

It’s admirable that city leaders are considering moneymaking possibilities for Southeast, especially Ward 8, where poor people, sick people and unemployed people are forgotten lots.

The council should do two things regarding the proposed sports-entertainment facility: 1) Grill proposers on every minute detail, and 2) shine the light as broadly and brightly as possible for the general public.

In other words, get it right even if it delays the project.

Deborah Simmons can be contacted at [email protected]

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