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A Wizards Practice Facility in Shaw? No Thanks, Says Residents

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With the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, new luxury apartments along U Street, and an influx of restaurants and bars, Shaw is on the up-and-up, and it looks like Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis is interested in being a part of the neighborhood's growth. Leonsis is currently searching for a site to build a practice facility for the Wizards and has already toured different sites in Crystal City, Ballston, and Shaw. Recently, many Shaw residents spoke out in protest about a six-acre parcel of land being considered along Rhode Island Avenue NW, between 9th and 11th streets.

Rather than a practice facility, residents would prefer rebuilding Shaw Junior High School on the site along with a public swimming pool and underground parking. Already, a petition has been drafted, opposing Leonsis' plan. It's uncertain of if a practice facility can even be built on the parcel of land as a portion can only be used for educational purposes, according to National Park Service records. Even so, it is possible for Congress and the District to overturn this arrangement.

Questions as to how serious this consideration is is still unknown. Reverend A.C. Durant, a pastor at the Tenth Street Baptist Church, said that one question that many residents are asking is, "Is this talk or a done deal?" Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), chairman of the Finance and Revenue Committee, described the plans as still "in the conceptual stage" as they continue to look at how the facility would be built and paid for. Mayor Vincent C. Gray said, "There has not been a serious proposal [made]." What Leonsis hopes for with a new facility, though, is the ability to attract and keep players as well as have more players live in Washington. He expects "tremendous tax benefits" with this move.

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Alexander Padro said that he was first contacted about a Wizards practice facility three years ago after a call from Randy Boe, a vice president of Monumental Sports & Entertainment. In terms of progress on the site, Padro said, "We haven't seen anything from them yet." What Padro would prefer to see is housing on the site. "The need for housing is paramount," he said. If a Wizards facility is built in Shaw, what many residents are wondering is what would that mean for property values? Residents worry that property values will increase to the point that they will be too expensive for them to stay. Shaw Activist Stanley Mayes suggested the District offer tax relief to those who "stayed here and kept the lights on."

Leonsis previously described the wish for a facility as an "arms race." He hopes to build the biggest and best practice facility that will resemble the recently opened Chicago Bulls' facility. The Washington Post reported, "Monumental Sports & Entertainment were looking for a facility costing between $40 and $50 million that would include courts equipped with 5,000 seats and retail facing the street outside." In the end when it comes to the Wizards practice facility, what Shaw civic leader Padro has to ask is "What does that do for the community?"
· In D.C., Wizards' practice complex not a slam dunk [WaPo]
· Leonsis targets D.C., Arlington for Wizards practice facility [WaPo]