Driven by what he’s termed an “arms race” to build the biggest and best practice facilities for NBA teams, Wizards and Mystics owner Ted Leonsis has begun touring sites in Arlington and D.C. and inquiring with local officials about what kind of support they might provide for a facility of his own.
Leonsis is narrowing in on sites in Crystal City, Ballston and the Shaw neighborhood of Northwest D.C., according to a source close to the team. The team currently practices at a court that at the Verizon Center.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity because the search is meant to be private, the source said Leonsis envisioned a venue resembling one the Chicago Bulls opened in September, as a way of trying to attract and keep better players.
That facility, called the Advocate Center, is next door to the Bulls’ home court and features practice courts, an expansive weight room, hydrotherapy pools, on-site chefs, massage tables, a barber’s chair, and coaches’ offices. Numerous flat screen televisions as well as Bulls championship banners adorn the walls.
D.C. officials said conversations were ongoing and that Leonsis and his company, Monumental Sports & Entertainment, were looking for a facility costing between $40 and $50 million that would include courts equipped with 5,000 seats and retail facing the street outside. A Monumental spokesman declined to comment.
Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), a relentless advocate on behalf of the city’s professional sports owners and their stadium proposals, said he had discussed with Monumental property in Shaw that is the site of a proposed future middle school along with an active playground, dog park and skate park.
Evans said putting the practice facility there could include the construction of a new middle school. Discussions about the site, located at the intersection of Rhode Island Avenue and 11th Street, were reported earlier by NBC4.
“We are in the very conceptual stage of talking about this,” Evans said. “But as the person — the person — who brought the dog park and the skateboard park to the site, those two entities plus a new middle school would be incorporated into the plans for the site.”
Mayor Vincent C. Gray said at a Wednesday press conference that “there has not been a serious proposal” discussed but that there could be value in building a new practice facility if it meant more players would live in the city. NBA teams typically have 15 players on their rosters.
“Where the players practice, they will probably live nearby,” he said. “I think they’ll live in the city, and I think there will be tremendous tax benefits for the city over time.”
Leonsis has made no secret about his interest for local officials to contribute to his new facility, which he is planning as he simultaneously seeks public support for a bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. Hosting the Olympics would likely require building an Olympic stadium, an athletes’ village and a natatorium.
Representatives of Monumental have been discussing the possibility of a practice facility with Arlington officials for months. Another Leonsis team, the Capitals, practices at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Ballston.
“We have always had a very positive working relationship with Monumental Sports, and the Kettler Capitals Iceplex has been a tremendous addition to our community,” Cara O’Donnell, a spokeswoman for Arlington Economic Development, in a statement. “We have had preliminary discussions about a possible Wizards facility for quite some time, and while those discussions are still preliminary, we would be thrilled to continue to increase Monumental’s presence in Arlington.”
Forest City Washington owns the mall around the ice complex and is planning to build a mix of housing and retail there called Ballston Common.
A spokesman for the company, Gary McManus, said Forest City had been in discussions around building a practice facility for the basketball teams there as well but “that component is not currently being contemplated as a component” of Ballston Common.
Leonsis is also targeting Crystal City, which is transitioning from an enclave of government offices into a mix of offices for tech firms, apartment buildings and shops.
Leonsis has toured properties in Crystal City but, according to a source familiar with the search, hasn’t appeared close to making a decision: “They think they need to have a proper facility, and he’s looking to see who’s going to give him the best package.”
Mike DeBonis contributed.
Correction: A previous version of this story said Forest City Washington owned the Kettler Capitals Iceplex. It has been corrected to show Forest City owns Ballston Mall but not the iceplex.
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