About nine months before the Wizards will open their first training camp at their new District home, the Southeast facility remains on-schedule for a September opening. That was the biggest message during a festive “topping out” ceremony Thursday morning at the work site in Congress Heights.
Construction workers and dignitaries munched on crab cakes and cupcakes; mascots and cheerleaders posed for photographs; civic leaders talked up the facility’s revitalization potential; and media members got a first look at the practice court space, which is expected to be ready for next season’s training camp. The facility will also house a 4,200-seat arena, which will host Mystics and Capital City Go-Go games, concerts and community events.
“To the people who are working on building this building, the ability to be able to deliver this on-time and on-budget is very, very rare,” Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said during the formal program. “For us to be able to move in for next season will be, I thought, a miracle. I think for you guys, it’s just another day at the office. And we’re very, very appreciative of the great work that you’re doing. Our gratitude will be shown to you by us making the playoffs and hopefully competing and winning a championship.”
“All right, you heard it first: playoffs and then championship,” said Gregory O’Dell, president and CEO of Events DC, the city’s convention center and sports agency, which helped put on Thursday’s celebration.
Full disclosure: It wasn’t clear which team would be winning the championship. But there’s probably not a question which franchise will be most energized from the new facility.
“We need a home-court advantage,” Mystics Coach and General Manager Mike Thibault said. “We want to feel that the crowd is with us every night. Capital One Arena is a great place to play in, but it’s 20,000 seats. And when you put 8,000 [fans] in, it doesn’t feel like we have an advantage over our visiting teams. When we come here in a year, we will.”
The arena will also host the Go-Go, Monumental Sports and Entertainment’s new developmental league franchise, scheduled to debut in the 2018-19 season. The Wizards plan to move their basketball operations department to the new facility, which doesn’t yet have a name. And the facility will also host Washington’s entry to the NBA 2K League, making it a rare venue to host “four professional sports teams, all in the same place,” according to Leonsis. The owner said Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, who also attended Thursday’s event, wants yet another team in the building and that “we’ll work to bring an eSports team here.”
The city will own and operate the facility on the east campus of the former St. Elizabeths hospital. Monumental is paying only a fraction of the costs, but Events DC also plans to book musical and entertainment acts, keeping the facility busy aside from the few dozen basketball games.
Thibault said he has been looking at the blueprints and specs for the facility for something like two years, so he recognizes all the landmarks even as it remains under construction. The Wizards will have to make an adjustment to their daily routine and add a second “work” setting to their Google Maps app. The Go-Go barely even exist. But the arena could be transformational for the Mystics, which is why Thibault told Leonsis five years ago that the Mystics “need a place of our own.”
“Walking in a building that has built-in energy because it’s full every night changes the mood of everybody. It just does,” he said. “You walk in and you go, ‘This is an event today. This is a thing.’ We could put the same number [of fans] in Capital One, and it feels empty, you know? I think part of it is your players will walk into a place that feels like home every day, and I think that’s a huge advantage mentally. If we do the crowd thing right and we do some other things, we can make it be an intimidating place.”
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