Ward 8’s year-old Entertainment and Sports Arena, the complex where the Washington Wizards practice and the Mystics play, was always going to be just the beginning, says Ted Leonsis.
The billionaire owner of the District’s NBA and WNBA franchises announced Thursday that the Mystics’ parent firm, Monumental, is spearheading a multipronged effort to improve schools and fuel economic growth in the impoverished neighborhoods around the building where his teams play and practice.
The initiative, called “FORWARD8,” includes pushing for the expansion of advanced science, technology, engineering and mathematics — known among educators as STEM — programs in the area’s schools and revitalizing community spaces to promote fitness, health and nutrition well-being.
“We’re in this for the long haul and we want this community developed the right way, and we want the jobs, we want the dollars to be flowing to local businesses. We want to be hiring local people,” said Leonsis, who has taken a particular interest in the ward since the District-owned Entertainment and Sports Arena opened last year.
“We want people to want to go to school, go to college, come back and want to work in Ward 8 — and that’s how we’ll help be a part of the overall rebuild of the community,” he said.
Leonsis, joined by Monumental officials and FORWARD8 partners and supporters, including Ward 8 civic and business leaders, outlined the program’s plans and goals to fans attending Thursday’s Mystics’ game against the Indiana Fever.
Part of the pitch for the initiative included a call for volunteers for some of the sponsored community development programs, including the nonprofit Congress Heights Community Training and Development Corporation, which provides educational and vocational training along with job placement services.
T-shirts benefiting the CHTDC were on sale in the Mystics team store.
Leonsis said he wants the Entertainment and Sports Arena to be the same kind of catalyst for positive change that Capital One Arena was a generation ago for Chinatown.
“We have to be a little bit patient. It might take three years or 10,” he said, but “that will happen here.”