District May Fund Arena Upgrades

Wizards owner Abe Pollin, who built the arena with private financing, requested the bill.
Wizards owner Abe Pollin, who built the arena with private financing, requested the bill.
By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Three D.C. Council members introduced a bill yesterday that would provide $50 million in public funding for improvements at Verizon Center, a move that supporters said would spur more economic development near the Chinatown arena.

As part of the deal, the city would take over ownership of the building from Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin in 2047. In the meantime, the city would get a rent-free, 24-seat luxury suite, which includes a private bathroom, two TVs, a refrigerator, a food service area and an unobstructed view of the arena floor.

The legislation, under which the District would issue $50 million in bonds and increase the tax on tickets and merchandise at the center, was requested by Pollin, who built the arena with private financing. The Wizards, Washington Mystics and Washington Capitals play in the 20,674-seat arena, which also hosts major concerts.

The $50 million would cover the costs of numerous upgrades. Pollin has asked for, among other things, a new $5 million scoreboard, a $3 million renovation of luxury suites, $400,000 worth of flat-screen TVs in suites, $1 million for a new marquee and many improvements to the arena's satellite and cable systems.

The money would "help keep Verizon Center amongst the premier sports and entertainment facilities in this country, and enable us to continue to attract outstanding events to our Nation's Capital," Pollin's company said in a statement.

"In our first 10 years in downtown Washington," the statement said, "the greatest athletes and performers have entertained over 22 million patrons, generated over $70 million in taxes for the city and spurred over $5.7 billion in development downtown. Our goal is to continue this success for many years to come."

A list of the requested improvements obtained by The Washington Post also shows expenditures for building maintenance, such as the replacement of a $750,000 emergency generator, $3 million to repair the roof and $500,000 for interior painting.

"This is a good deal," said council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who co-sponsored the bill with Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) and council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8).

Evans said the city government has a box that seats at least 40 people at RFK Stadium, where the Washington Nationals play. The box is controlled by the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission. The city will get a box at the publicly funded baseball stadium in Southeast Washington when it opens next year.

Evans said the city would have to work out who would be in charge of running the box at Verizon, but it should be used for "economic-development purposes."

No one else on the 11-member council joined Evans, Gray and Barry as a co-sponsor.

"I think Abe Pollin has done a phenomenal job with the Verizon Center, but I wasn't comfortable enough to sign on," said council member Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large).

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