- - Sunday, February 11, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Was last week’s announcement of $40 million in renovations at Capital One Arena an indication that building owner Ted Leonsis has given up his quest for a new arena at the RFK site? Is he now content to stick with the downtown home of the Washington Wizards and Capitals?

“Capital One Arena is part of the heartbeat of Washington,” Leonsis said in a press release. “We are incredibly proud to be making this investment in a building that has played a key role in shaping our city, and that has been home to so many great memories for people across the DMV. These upgrades will ensure that the fan experience at Capital One Arena remains second to none.”

The renovations include modernized concourses, redesigned concession stands, new padded seats and other improvements, and they are expected to be done by the fall.

Leonsis‘ announcement could set the stage for the city to take part in a much larger change at Capital One Arena — a Madison Square Garden-like refurbishing similar to the massive, three-year overhaul that transformed the home of the Knicks and Rangers a few years ago.

Leonsis has lobbied city officials for a new arena at the RFK site. That was the whole point of leading the charge for Washington to be the host city for the 2024 Olympics — a new arena for Leonsis, along with a new Olympic stadium that would wind up the future home of the Washington Redskins.

Fortunately, for residents of the DMV, Washington was passed over as the American candidate to host the international government pickpocketing event.

Leonsis still privately lobbied for a new arena at the RFK site, but city officials instead have pushed for the arena to stay downtown. The arena, built by the late Wizards and Capitals owner Abe Pollin, with infrastructure and other costs paid by the city, opened in 1997 and transformed the area.

Now, with the announcement of the improvements coming to the Capital One Arena, it would appear that Leonsis is planning to stay put. Then again, Leonsis is always talking about how, from Baltimore to Richmond, the area is destined to become one super city. If so, why not put the arena in Elkridge?

Any plans by the city to partner with Leonsis in such a massive renovation project, though, will likely have to wait until the future of the Redskins stadium location is decided.

Stadium buzz has been quiet lately, but that is in part due to last November’s election in Virginia and upcoming contests in the District and Maryland. Despite all the chest-thumping by former governor Terry McAuliffe, a new Redskins stadium has always been a long shot in Virginia, a state where such projects are buried in graveyards. No, this is a probably a race between the District and the RFK site and Maryland and a plot of land next to the MGM Hotel and Casino at National Harbor.

Expect some new Redskins stadium noise to begin following District Mayor Muriel Bowser’s primary election in June. That gives the District a head start on Maryland, where Gov. Larry Hogan will likely face a hotly-contested general election in November.

It’s all part of an exciting time for the city and its teams. Development on Half Street and around Nationals Park is in full force, with Major League Baseball’s 2018 All-Star Game coming in July. That same week, D.C. United’s new 20,000 seat stadium, Audi Field, is scheduled to open.

Later this year, at the old St. Elizabeth’s site in Ward 8, a new 5,000 seat arena is expected to open. That venue is funded by the city, Events DC (the event-managing city agency) and Leonsis; and will serve as the home for the Mystics and the Wizards’ G League team known as the Capital City Go-Go, as well as the Wizards‘ practice facility.

Add to that the possibility of a new Redskins stadium and a renovated Capital One Arena, and you’ll have sports facilities anchoring development around the city — a long way from the days when RFK Stadium stood alone.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

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