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Five design facts about D.C.’s new Entertainment and Sports Arena

The multipurpose facility débuts in Southeast on Sept. 22

Rendering of the Entertainment and Sports Arena
Rossetti, courtesy of Events DC

When it opens on Saturday, D.C.’s Entertainment and Sports Arena (ESA) in Southeast will herald a new chapter for the St. Elizabeths East Campus, the former site of facilities for a major psychiatric hospital administered by the federal government. The project is part of the ongoing redevelopment of the 180-acre campus into a massive mixed-use community.

The Sept. 22 ribbon cutting will also mark a milestone in the growth of Congress Heights—the surrounding neighborhood—and Ward 8, the municipal division that covers much of Southeast. Once home to Mayor Marion Barry, Ward 8 has historically seen disinvestment.

The project is expected to generate tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue for the District and introduce hundreds of thousands of annual visitors to Southeast, according to officials. It will host Washington Wizards practices, Mystics home games, boxing matches, esports competitions, community events, and concerts. Mary J. Blige is performing there on Oct. 6.

Previously estimated to cost $69 million to develop, the arena is also notable for its design. Here are five architectural facts about the ESA, courtesy of design team Washington Arena Design Group, consisting of Detroit-based Rossetti and D.C.-based Michael Marshall Design.

At 114,000 square feet, the building has separate sections for Wizards practices and its other uses. The practice facility boasts courts, locker rooms, team offices and conference rooms, and additional training spaces. The arena portion, which features 4,200 seats, has concessions, restrooms, and upper grandstands with mezzanine seating. All told, the building stands on 3.8 acres of the St. Elizabeths East Campus. Events DC, the District’s sports and entertainment authority, will manage it.

It is currently the only building in the U.S. to house a shared training facility for an NBA team and a WNBA team and a home court for a WNBA team. This aspect makes it a “rare hybrid,” per the design team. Still, D.C. officials and the project’s development team, led by joint venture Smoot/Gilbane, have said the arena’s impact will be “bigger than basketball.”

The architects incorporated the historic St. Elizabeths campus into the design. The terra cotta color palette of the arena’s metal panels reflects the brickwork of the existing Italian Renaissance-style buildings, constructed from the early 1900s into the 1960s. D.C. architect Michael Marshall calls the way in which variegated industrial materials were used “bespoke.”

The building is energy-efficient and meets U.S. Green Building Council standards for LEED Silver status. It features green roof areas, onsite stormwater retention systems, and exterior walls that help conserve energy. The project also has bicycle storage inside and outside and specific parking spaces for low-emitting vehicles. (The arena is accessible by Metro as well.)

A lot of steel was used—so much that if all of the building’s steel structural elements were attached end to end, they would extend for about eight miles. By the numbers, this entails: 42,155 square feet of insulated metal panels, 1,130 tons of structural steel, 65 tons of long-span joists, 133,000 square feet of metal deck, 41,796 linear feet of structural members—which include beams, columns, braces, and trusses—and 11,322 square feet of steel plates.