- The Washington Times - Monday, February 4, 2019


D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, meet businessman Willem Polak, chairman of the Friends of Fort Dupont Ice Arena.

Sports and entertainment mogul Ted Leonsis, reacquaint yourself with Miss Bowser.

Waiter, iced tea — all around.

Taxpayers, parents and policymakers, lend me your eyes. Those three local power players need your help to resolve a problem — albeit a minor problem, but a problem nonetheless. And it’s one of their own making.

Understand, in 1996 Mr. Polak decided to establish his ice skating organization after its former caretaker, the National Park Service, announced it was shuttering the site due to losing hundreds of thousands of dollars there each year. The Friends of Fort Duport has been managing the site, which provides ice skating lessons for young people and hosts groups.

Ice arena supporters and city planners agreed on a plan to renovate and rebuild the site. Everything was cool until last week, when the mayor decided to pull the $20 million in funding and reprogram that money for D.C. schools. Mr. Polak said his group is still prepared to hold up his group’s share of the funding, which is $5 million.

Meanwhile, Mr. Leonsis, who owns the hockey championship team Washington Capitals, started a GoFundMe effort for his part.

Interestingly, a few short years ago, Mr. Leonsis and Miss Bowser grinned like twin Cheshire cats when they announced a new $55 million project in Southeast that would become the home court for his WNBA’s Washington Mystics and serve as a practice facility for the NBA’s Washington Wizards. The 118,000-square foot, 5,000-seat facility, they both said in 2015, would generate $90 million over 20 years and hundreds of construction and permanent jobs. In three years’ time, Mr. Leonsis’ basketball arena was up and running.

Of course, reconstruction of the ice arena shouldn’t take any longer — once the money begins to peel off. Hence the fact that while Mr. Leonsis, Miss Bowser and Mr. Polak, who’s in the tourism and travel business (think Potomac River water taxis and cruises), travel in the same inside-the-Beltway circles, each is acting as though they don’t know how to reach an agreement in the name of culture.

On the table is whether the city should cover four-fifths of the Fort Dupont costs. The answer is no. In fact, Mr. Polak’s group and the city should swap price tags.

Next up, Mr. Leonsis, as the city’s chief sports and entertainment mogul, should pay double the city’s price tag. Raising another generation of regionwide ice hockey fans to “Rock the Red” — or (ouch!) cheer for the Bruins, Penguins or Blackhawks — will likely grow his profits. And continue the legacy of coach Neal Henderson, long an extraordinary mentor and man on ice.

As for Mr. Polak, well, pull together your list of “Friends” and have each of them tell three “Friends” and then have each of them tell three “Friends” and tell them all to reach out and touch somebody’s charitable hand.

For sure, the ice rink needs a major do-over. Thing is, you and your Friends built up the brand, and demand is outstripping supply of space and resources. And, for certain, that is a very good thing.

Miss Bowser and the D.C. Council, however, mustn’t take money from D.C. parents’ pockets to fund a public recreational facility. Moreover, the mayor would have seen the funding shortfalls coming if she and the council had drilled down.

Because all three of the power players have fallen short, all three should reconfigure their obligations to the youths of D.C., Maryland and Virginia, and appreciate the fact that all three jurisdictions have a stake in the Fort Dupont Ice Arena.

The GoFundMe effort is a great start. Fundraising while cruising along the Potomac or sponsoring recitals and events at the Capital One Arena might be cool, too.

Don’t put the plans for a new arena on ice, though. The young people are watching.

And, if necessary, seek advice from D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. Remember, she knows the nitty-gritty when it comes to the National Park Service.

Deborah Simmons can be contacted at [email protected]

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