Howard University officials, a pair of private developers and Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis are in talks to build a publicly financed Wizards practice facility as part of a mixed-use development on the school’s campus north of U Street in Northwest D.C.
Under the deal, which is in the early stages of discussion, Howard would provide as much as two acres of land located between Georgia Avenue and Eighth Street NW, north of W Street. Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the company led by Leonsis that owns the Wizards and Mystics, would manage the facility, which the company views as critical to attracting top-flight NBA talent.
The D.C. government would be asked to float bonds to pay for construction of the facility, which could cost between $25 million and $35 million.
Wayne A.I. Frederick, who was named Howard’s new president last July, is working to put the school on better financial footing after a member of the board of trustees raised concerns that fiscal and management problems were threatening the school’s long-term viability. Howard also recently announced it was cutting 84 staff positions.
Frederick said that although the discussions were in the early stages, he was interested in using the school’s real estate to help revitalize Georgia Avenue, bring the school revenue and add amenities that would benefit both students and the surrounding communities, such as a health and wellness center, a grocery store or new housing.
“We’ve been talking to lots of people about different types of things,” Frederick said. “One of my goals at the university is to diversify our revenue streams and looking at real estate assets is a part of that.”
Frederick, a medical doctor, said one of the priorities for the university was building a health and wellness center that would provide a gym, yoga studios, workout facilities and space for nutrition classes. He said the development could also include new venues for the school’s teams, such as a new home arena for Howard’s basketball teams.
“We’ve been looking at a full range of programs including varsity sports,” he said.
Leonsis views a new practice facility as critical to the team’s competitiveness in attracting the best free agents to D.C. and has been considering how to build one for more than a year. The Chicago Bulls opened a $25 million, 60,000-square-foot practice and training facility last fall and the Minnesota Timberwolves will move into a new $25 million space this spring.
An earlier idea to build a training facility at Shaw Junior High School fizzled amidst community opposition.
“At Verizon Center we currently have only one practice court, no space for seating (we can’t adequately open it up to public) and a shared weight room, and the court was marginal at best when it was constructed 17 years ago,” Leonsis wrote in a November blog post. “We need a fully developed training and conditioning space that meets the needs to today’s athletes.”
Randall Boe, Monumental’s executive vice president and general counsel, said that the Howard idea was one of multiple proposals the team was considering, including locations in Arlington, Montgomery County and Tysons Corner.
Boe said Monumental was pursuing a basketball complex similar to the Kettler Capitals Iceplex, in Ballston, which Arlington County financed and Monumental manages as a practice center for the Capitals, which it also owns, and a community hockey center.
The new basketball venue would include two full-size basketball courts, viewing stands, a weightlifting center and more.
“We’re looking to build a world-class practice facility for the Wizards that, like our Kettler practice facility, is also a great community asset,” Boe said. “We’re talking to people and trying to figure out the financing model.”
Despite its location surrounded by neighborhoods booming with new apartments and restaurants, Howard has had some unsuccessful recent forays into real estate.
For more than a decade the school has been planning Howard Town Center, a mix of apartments and a grocery store, for land on the Northwest corner of Georgia Avenue and V Street. After repeated false starts, the project is now mired in a lawsuit.
But Howard has a new real estate team in place and began working with a pair of developers, Bethesda-based StonebridgeCarras, and the Jarvis Co., based in D.C., to engage Leonsis and D.C. officials. Stonebridge has built major mixed-use projects in NoMa, Bethesda and other areas. The Jarvis Co. has a minority stake in a number of projects involving the D.C. government, including Progression Place, Capitol Crossing and CityCenterDC.
William Jarvis, a principal of the company, said it was too early to tell how big of a project it might be or what it would include. “There are lots of ingredients that are on the table we are working hard to see what will actually work,” he said.
The suggestion that the D.C. government foot the bill for construction of Monumental’s portion of the development could stretch an already tight District budget. Last week, in her first budget proposal, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) suggested raising the District’s sales tax in order to raise $22 million to fight homelessness, a figure that could be surpassed by the price tag of a practice facility.
Monumental Sports officials suggested that revenue from the facility — through naming rights, merchandise sales and gym rentals — could be used to repay the cost of the facility. In 2007, D.C. agreed to pay for $50 million worth of improvements at Verizon Center, backed by taxes on tickets at the venue.
Bowser said in an interview that she wanted to see the team continue to practice in D.C. but wanted to hear more details.
“I only know that they’re talking about it,” she said. “I think Monumental wants a new facility and they want it in the District of Columbia, which is a good thing.”
She said she had spoken to team officials but wasn’t sure what the ask of the city would be.
“I don’t know what they’re going to come back with.”
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