The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion An investment that is bigger than basketball

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), center, greets Ward 8 residents as she arrives to announce plans to build a sports arena at St. Elizabeths East. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

In January’s hearing on the sports and entertainment arena, I was happy to hear my D.C. Council colleague Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) publicly display a commitment to economic growth in Ward 8. The encouragement to build the capacity of Ward 8 businesses and residents was music to my ears. Could it be that finally Ward 8 residents and businesses would see brighter days? Or would the ever present and relentless shade of the past continue to block growth in Ward 8?

No member of the council is more committed than I to making sure that Ward 8 businesses and residents benefit from the investments of the District. We have been underserved and underinvested in for far too long. The issue here is not accountability for spending too much in Ward 8; it is that the District hasn’t spent enough in Ward 8. The District has invested in assets that have been anchors to development in affluent neighborhoods, but now that the investment is an underserved community, the strategy should change?

Progressive leadership would support public investments in Ward 8 that creates jobs and economic growth and that unlock the door to $15 million in private investment.

My colleague recently introduced legislation that would limit the budget to $50 million for the new arena. This rush-to-judgment crusade limits investment in a community that has been underserved for decades. It does not consider that this investment in our community is bigger than basketball. Again, we are being forced into the shade.

In addition to being the future home of a practice facility for the Washington Wizards and Mystics arena, the venue will serve as a home for non-sports events. It will spur millions of dollars in economic growth, provide opportunities for Ward 8 businesses and create thousands of jobs for Ward 8 residents. This arena will bring life to a dormant property and construct a major destination in Congress Heights – something our community has been promised but which has never been delivered.

Silverman has voted with the council to approve contracts with a value greater than $50 million without any additional hearings. Why has she singled out a Ward 8 project for extra review? The Ward 8 community continues to expect financial responsibility on all projects in our community. We share the same concerns about compliance, monitoring costs and getting the best product for our dollars. We also believe that the District has an obligation to invest in our community, our businesses and our residents.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) held a hearing, which Silverman attended, where testimony from Ward 8 residents and businesses who support the project was heard. Events DC and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning & Economic Development have held community meetings, engaged with the residents on every step of the process and made the deal documents available since fall of last year.

A new entertainment and sports arena won’t solve all of our challenges, but it is a start. The sun will shine in Ward 8! We welcome the sun.

LaRuby May, a Democrat, represents Ward 8 on the D.C. Council.