Building state-of-the art practice facilities with luxury accommodations and advanced training equipment is in vogue in the NBA. Teams in Brooklyn, Chicago and Toronto opened new practice venues recently and clubs in Philadelphia, Sacramento, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Boston are either planning or building their own.
Many of the facilities include ancillary attractions or uses ranging from medical centers to shopping to office space.
But none of the facilities on the books — save the one D.C. is planning for the Wizards in Southeast — aims to incorporate a separate concert and events arena as well.
In addition to a 45,000-square-foot practice venue for the Wizards, the D.C. facility will include a 4,200-seat arena capable of hosting concerts, community events and home games for the Washington Mystics when it opens in 2018, as well as contests involving a possible NBA D-League affiliate down the road.
The challenge isn’t lost on Gregory A. O’Dell, president and chief executive of Events DC, the city’s convention center and sports agency. O’Dell toured practice venues in Chicago and Cleveland, reviewed plans for others and said he hadn’t seen any other city try to combine an entertainment arena with NBA practice space.
“I think this is one of the most unique facilities the way we are doing this,” O’Dell said. “Nowhere else have we seen the two concepts combined. We’ve looked at a couple of training facilities and those training facilities were really done for one team and one entity.”
D.C. will own and operate the new facility. About 38 percent of the total space in the $65 million project on the east campus of the former St. Elizabeths hospital will be dedicated solely to the Wizards even though the team’s ownership has agreed to pay only $4.46 million, or about 6.9 percent of cost.
But the project is still expected to bring jobs and crowds to a neighborhood, Congress Heights, that has been beset by poverty and violence, and O’Dell said he is committed to ensuring that the project generates economic activity for the area well beyond the 17 or so games the Mystics will host there in the summer.
Events DC unveiled the new designs, by Rossetti Architects and Marshall Moya Design, Thursday evening at a community meeting in Congress Heights. Here’s a breakdown by O’Dell:
With the new design, Events DC attempts to distinguish between the private practice area and space for arena crowds. The side of the building near the training facility wouldhave Wizards player and executive parking. The entrance for fans would traverse through two historic buildings on the St. Elizabeths campus, which are slated for redevelopment. O’Dell said the project has been a “great collaboration” between the city and the team so far.
On the St. Elizabeths campus, the practice venue would be surrounded by brick buildings from the late 1800s and O’Dell said the new design would fit in among the existing architecture but add a new flair — including a visual entry point beneath the roof above the main entrance.
“We introduce some elements of brick there but then we have this more modern roof line,” O’Dell said. “Some of the material may change on some of that roof [as plans advance], but the design has this turn-up feature of the roof that exposes the transparency of the inner bowl. You literally can see into the side of the bowl, into the side of the building.”
The artwork featuring a woman’s face is just a placeholder.
O’Dell is confident he will be able to book the venue for musical, entertainment and sports acts. Unlike Nationals Park, which D.C. owns but does not operate, he said Events DC has wide leeway to choose what nights to schedule events. By contrast Nationals Park is owned by the city but controlled by the Nationals’ owners, so the city has few opportunities to hold events there.
“Aside from when they are playing their games, generally speaking Events DC will control the facility and manage the facility. At Nationals Park they are operating the facility, we’re not operating the facility,” O’Dell said.
O’Dell and Events DC agreed to spend $10 million more on the project than originally planned largely in order to add a second-level seating area, creating a split-bowl design. On the left is the setup for concerts, on the right the setup for a Mystics game. About 900 seats retract into the north wall for the basketball setup.
Part of the effort to engage the neighborhood includes building retail bays into the side of the arena that will be open even when there isn’t an event indoors.
“We wanted to have a retail experience that could be used by the community particularly on days when there are not events there,” he said. “So you’re seeing retail bays with garage doors. So on days where the doors aren’t open for an event those doors will be open for food and beverage.”
Events DC has a mixed track record with retail; nearly all the retailers that initially opened in the convention center didn’t last long. But Events DC has signed a slew of new restaurants and shops for those spaces recently, led by critically acclaimed Smoked & Stacked pastrami sandwiches. Perhaps that experience will benefit leasing in Southeast, a much different market.
Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz