Thursday, November 2, 2006

The Washington Capitals yesterday unveiled their new practice facility, a dense 137,000 square-foot complex located above a parking garage next to Ballston Common Mall in Arlington.

While finishing touches on the complex were still being made in the background, team members and officials said the $42.8 million project is a huge upgrade over their facility in Anne Arundel County and a big attraction for fans and potential free agents.

“I think it has this whole aura of first class,” Caps owner Ted Leonsis said, shortly after sliding on the ice in dress shoes and a designer suit. “It will help us market to where our season ticket base is.”

Also yesterday, the Caps announced they entered into a seven-year naming rights deal with Vienna-based real estate company KSI, soon to be named Kettler. The facility will be known as the Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Financial terms of the naming rights deal were not disclosed.

The Iceplex has two NHL-size rinks, plus locker rooms, a snack bar and pro shop, media facilities and space for special events. The team also will occupy a 20,000-square-foot training center with weight rooms and a theater-style classroom. Practices are expected to move to the new site from temporary host Ashburn (Va.) Ice House later this month.

No doubt, it is seen as an upgrade over the Caps’ aging previous facility, nestled in the Piney Orchard section of Odenton, Md., in Anne Arundel County. The old facility’s location — a good 45 minutes by car from Verizon Center — was seen as too sleepy for young, mostly single athletes and too distant for team executives with downtown offices.

“It’s a little more vibrant on this side of the beltway and closer to D.C.,” Caps goaltender Olie Kolzig said yesterday. “There are a lot of things that attract free agents — money being first and foremost — but next to that it’s the community, whether it’s a place to raise a family and the training facility. D.C. is a very underrated city. This being closer to the city than our other facility was will have a great effect.”

For a practice facility, the Iceplex has some unique aspects. No other ice rink in America is located as high above street level, and it’s surely the only facility offering views of the National Mall and Washington Monument.

Arlington County officials boasted that the new building, built atop seven levels of parking and connected to the Ballston Common Mall, is a prime example of smart growth. The county paid $42.8 million for the construction and will be paid back through a 30-year lease with the team.

“I’ll never forget the day that [Caps officials] came into my office with this idea, which sounded exciting and crazy at the same time,” said Chris Zimmerman, chair of the Arlington County Board. “The result is something that will be a great addition to our community in so many different ways.”

The complex’s main rink will allow seating for 1,200 spectators, and team officials said they believe they can attract several hundred fans to attend practices, which are open to the public. A second rink with seating for 250 will allow the complex to offer as much as 12,000 hours of ice time for local hockey and skating groups. The Caps are also planning to donate 500 hours of ice time to disadvantaged members of the community.

• Tim Lemke blogs the Sports Biz.

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