The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Residents hope new arena means new life for long-neglected area

The basketball games haven’t begun, the concerts have yet to be played, but District resident Latreasa Woodson already was excited about what the opening of the Entertainment and Sports Arena holds for Ward 8.

“I think it is great for the ward, especially since I live here around the corner,” said Woodson, as her 7-year-old son, Jayden, looked at the basketball court. “I am hoping it will attract restaurants, cinemas, housing, jobs, things for my son to do.”

The Entertainment and Sports Arena, which officially opened Saturday, brings a nearly $70 million facility to Congress Heights, an area of the District that historically has been passed over for the type of development that areas west of the Anacostia River have enjoyed.

The 4,200-seat arena will house the WNBA’s Washington Mystics and the new NBA G-league affiliate Capital City Go-Go, as well as serve as the practice facility for the NBA’s Washington Wizards.

The outcome of a partnership among the District, Events DC — the District’s convention and sports authority — and Mystics and Wizards owner Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the arena has been in the making since 2015 and is part of an overhaul of the former St. Elizabeths Hospital site.

The arena is the newest of the District’s sports facilities.

In July, Audi Field — the new home to soccer club D.C. United — opened in Buzzard Point in Ward 6, just a few blocks from the 10-year-old Washington Nationals baseball stadium.

On Saturday, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), accompanied by officials from Events DC and Monumental, took a tour of the arena, walking through the locker rooms — complete with high shelves for the players — therapy room, lounge and practice area, before ending up in the arena, which smelled of fresh paint.

Later, Bowser, speaking before an audience that included officials, Mystics players and community members, said the effort and cost — the District spent $23 million on the project — meant jobs and opportunity for Congress Heights.

“Our city moves forward when all parts of our city move forward,” Bowser said. “We had to have a big investment, and that big investment — just like it was in Chinatown, just like it was at Buzzard Point, just like it was at the Wharf — had to come from Washington, D.C., and the taxpayers of the District of Columbia. We took a big bet on Congress Heights, and doesn’t Congress Heights deserve it?”

The arena is surrounded by the moribund brick buildings of the old hospital, but it soon will be sitting among new townhouses and apartments, said Brian Kenner, deputy mayor for planning and economic development.

“This is what we call big vision, and it’s happening right now in our own Ward 8,” D.C. Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) said. “For far too long people did not want to invest in our community.”

Mary Cuthbert, chair of the neighborhood commission, said she plans to be in the audience when Mary J. Blige takes the stage at the facility’s first concert next month.

“Development has been very slow and very rare, and that’s why we’re so excited about it,” she said. “It’s going to change the whole neighborhood completely. Just as all the other neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., have changed, this too will change.”