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Virginia legislator to drop amendment that tied Metro funding to renaming of station

The McLean Metro station in Tysons, shown before its official opening in 2014.
The McLean Metro station in Tysons, shown before its official opening in 2014. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
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A Virginia budget amendment that would have withheld millions in pledged funding to Metro unless the transit agency renamed a station to include Capital One bank is being dropped as part of a “compromise” that will bring changes to the station, the state senator who wrote the measure said Wednesday.

Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax) said she is pulling the amendment from a budget bill that would have made at least $165 million in capital funding for Metro contingent upon the system renaming the McLean Metro station as “McLean-Capital One Hall” station.

“This was always meant to be a crowbar amendment to get [Metro’s] attention,” Howell said Wednesday in an email. “Obviously I was not seriously going to cut [Metro funding] by millions. We have reached a compromise: improvements will be made to the station and I will drop the amendment.”

In the agreement, Metro no longer must rename the station to receive its contribution of dedicated funding from Virginia.

In return, the transit agency pledged to install signs inside the McLean station directing passengers to Capital One Hall, a 1,600-seat performance venue the banking giant is scheduled to open on its campus this fall. Metro also said it would speed up construction of a second entrance to the station that will provide theater patrons closer access to and from the station.

“[Metro] will work closely with Fairfax County to address Capital One’s revised request for wayfinding signage for the performance hall, as well as ongoing work on a second entrance that will benefit riders to McLean station,” Metro board chairman Paul C. Smedberg said in a text message.

Capital One said in statement Wednesday that it is “pleased to see that Metro and Fairfax County have reached a resolution on Fairfax County’s application to rename the McLean metro station.”

Howell’s amendment was inserted into a massive state budget bill earlier this month.

It would have forced Metro to rename a station for a corporate entity for the first time in its history or forfeit a chunk of needed capital money to update and upgrade the aging transportation system. It came at a time when the transit agency is facing declining revenue amid a historic drop in ridership.

Virginia Senate bill demands Metro change station name to include bank or lose millions in funding

Howell’s announcement about pulling the amendment came days before an expected vote on the budget bill in Richmond during a special session of the General Assembly. It also came one day after The Washington Post published a report about the amendment.

Capital One Hall is expected to become a cultural center in Tysons, hosting 200 events annually, including plays, symphonies and concerts. The $120 million venue will include a smaller 250-seat venue, outdoor space, an atrium that can seat 660 people and a terrace for receptions and other gatherings.

The company wanted the McLean station to carry the performance venue’s name and petitioned the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for support to request that change from Metro. The county board unanimously supported the request in September and forwarded it to Metro, which never publicly considered the proposal.

The company contributed $300,000 toward the construction and design of the second Metro station entrance closer to its performance venue, Fairfax County transportation officials said. The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission is pitching in another $1 million, which will come from Interstate 66 toll revenue, said Executive Director Kate Mattice.

Jeff C. McKay (D-At Large), chairman of the Fairfax County board, said that “we’ve been working on that for years, and we got a commitment from Metro to expedite that construction and make sure that that proffered commitment that [Capital One] made actually happens.”

Metro often grants station name changes at the request of a city or county. The transit agency last year approved four name changes for stations in Maryland and Virginia, but it has a long-standing policy of avoiding the names of commercial entities.

Metro surveys show riders dislike the idea of naming rights being sold for stations. Metro board members also worry about losing legal control over who they could sell naming rights to.

Board members have become amenable to the idea of selling naming rights in recent years as a way to shore up budget shortfalls. A lack of transit riders during the pandemic has led to a projected loss of more than $500 million in operating revenue, Metro has said, and officials are still looking at how to close a gap of more than $170 million at the end of the year.

Metro station naming-rights item pulled from board agenda to address concerns of Fairfax County leaders

Capital One, however, did not like “being squeezed for money,” according to Howell, who spoke to company officials before filing the amendment. That led to the amendment she filed sometime before Feb. 10.

Howell said she believed Metro was trying to extract money from Capital One unfairly.

“Capital One has its headquarters in the Senate District I represent,” she wrote in an email Tuesday before announcing she would pull the amendment. “It is a major employer as well. They are a responsible corporate organization and should not be squeezed by [Metro] over a sign that will help the public locate a major cultural venue.”

Campaign finance records show Howell, who chairs the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, has received more than $26,000 in contributions from Capital One — a major donor in Virginia politics — including $2,500 last year. Most members of the finance panel’s transportation subcommittee, which unanimously approved the amendment earlier this month with no discussion, also received donations from Capital One.

Howell said that she was not lobbied to file the amendment and that campaign contributions were not a factor in her decision. She said she advocated for Capital One, which employs more than 9,000 people in the region, because it built a community center that will be a regional draw.

As for whether Capital One might pursue the purchase of Metro naming rights in the future, the company said that is unclear.

“Given there is no current Metro policy on purchasing corporate station naming rights, we cannot speculate on whether Capital One would pursue such an option,” the company said.