A lot has been said about construction of new the Wizards practice basketball facility scheduled to come to the East Campus of St. Elizabeths. The announcement was met with a lot of excitement that a quality development is coming east of the river. Is this good for our community? Let’s see.
The development has been dubbed “Bigger than Basketball.” Is it? It can be. Let’s first address the $50 million price tag. That kind of money, many would argue, could be better used to address other needs in the ward. There is no dispute the needs are great in our community.
However, I would say this is a worthwhile investment because it is the type of commitment from the District that will bring even more investment. You don’t spend that kind of money without generating broader expectations. The development community will take notice and say to themselves, Let’s take a look east of the river.
Additionally, basketball fans across the region will come to Ward 8 to watch Wizards and Mystics games. Concertgoers will come to listen to their favorite music artist. Congress Heights will become a destination! When have you ever heard “Congress Heights” and “destination” in the same sentence?
Becoming a destination will spark more development interest for Ward 8. The new facility and additional investment will create jobs to meet the demands of ticket buyers and address the need for more retail options in our community. How many times have you said to yourself that you’re tired of using your gas to drive to other parts of the city or neighboring states just to grocery shop, get a hamburger, or buy even an ice cream cone. I am crossing my fingers this will move us a step closer in the right direction.
It’s been nearly a year since it was announced, and excitement has worn down because of the elephant in the room, gentrification. Yes, the facility will attract people who have never been east of the river. Once they come, they will see how nice the surrounding neighborhoods are and the convenience to get to and from downtown.
We should not allow this to scare us. Instead we should use this to our advantage. Think about it. This is will be the first of many investments coming east of the river. Why not start a business and become certified with the District? For District-sponsored economic development projects, developers are required to spend 35 percent of their building cost on District-based small business, and they get extra applause if those businesses are located in Wards 7 and 8. The time is now to position ourselves for this type of opportunity.
Additionally, this is an opportunity to bring even more resources via community benefits agreements. I remember former Councilmember Marion Barry stating that the benefits in these agreements should last as long as the development projects themselves. The benefits could range from scholarships to fixing some of the blighted property in our neighborhoods to make them safer and more appealing.
Let’s jump at the opportunity and make this “bigger than basketball” and position ourselves to take advantage of what is to come.
Charles E. Wilson is the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for 8A05 as well as president and co-founder of the Historic Anacostia Block Association and River East Emerging Leaders. You can read his blog, The Art of WARd8, at www. artofward8.blogspot.com.