Washington Capitals, Wizards arena proposal highlights Gov. Youngkin’s divided Virginia government

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WASHINGTON — The proposal to move the NHL’s Washington Capitals and the NBA’s Washington Wizards out of Washington has hit a snag in Virginia’s General Assembly.

State Sen. Louise Lucas, chair of the state Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, said Saturday she believed Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s proposal to move the sports teams out of Washington and into Alexandria, Virginia, was “not ready for prime time.”

Lucas doubled down on that sentiment Monday, when her committee wrapped up work on bills heading to their counterparts in the House of Delegates for approval and the Senate bill that laid out a $2 billion plan to move the two teams was not one of them.

“This is what happens when Executive Branch doesn’t operate in good faith and doesn’t have respect for the Legislative Branch,” Lucas, a Democrat, said on X.

In December, Youngkin and Ted Leonsis, the CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which has the majority stake in the Wizards and the Capitals, announced their plan to create a multibillion dollar entertainment district that would be home to the two teams.

The Wizards and the Capitals play at Washington’s Capital One Arena, which Monumental also owns. The plan needs approval from the Virginia Legislature, as well as the Alexandria City Council.

Among Lucas’ concerns: the project’s financing. The proposal would use bonds backed by the Commonwealth of Virginia and the city of Alexandria to finance a significant part of the project. That could stick Virginia taxpayers with the bill if the venture is not as successful as Youngkin and Leonsis hope it will be.

Asked whether the deal is dead, Lucas told reporters in Richmond on Monday: “As far as I’m concerned.”

Youngkin and officials at Monumental Sports are still holding out hope. A version of the bill working its way through the House of Delegates would establish the “Virginia Stadium Authority,” which would have control over the Potomac Yard arena and entertainment district in Alexandria, just south of Reagan National Airport in the Washington suburbs. That bill passed out of committee overwhelmingly this week and will be up for a full vote in the House of Delegates in the coming weeks.

“The Governor is confident at the end of the day that the General Assembly will come together because this project is good for the entire Commonwealth,” Rob Damschen, Youngkin’s communications director, said in a statement. “It creates 30,000 jobs and unlocks billions in new revenue that can be used to fund expanded toll relief in Portsmouth, increased funding for I-81, and new money for education for rural and urban school divisions across the Commonwealth.”

Youngkin, the former CEO of the equity firm Carlyle Group, is no stranger to making deals, but the proposal is the latest example of the reality he faces: having to work with Democrats who control both houses of the General Assembly.

As governor, though, Youngkin does maintain the ability to send bills to the General Assembly any time during the session, which adjourns in mid-March.

Monica Dixon, the chief administrative officer and president of external affairs at Monumental Sports, is hopeful the Potomac Yards plan will go through.

“We have had healthy discussions with members across the General Assembly and Council in Alexandria, and we are eager to work with the lawmakers in Richmond to provide all information they might need to feel comfortable about this deal,” Dixon said in a statement. “This project will deliver tremendous benefits for the City of Alexandria and the entire Commonwealth of Virginia, including tens of thousands of new jobs and billions in revenue and economic impact.”

Across the Potomac, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser has ratcheted up her public push to keep the teams in the District, suggesting in an op-ed published Friday in The Washington Post that Leonsis and Monumental would be breaking promises — and leases — if they leave town.

“We intend to keep our end of the bargain and enforce the leases with Monumental that require the Wizards and Capitals to play at the arena through 2047 and the Mystics to play in Congress Heights through 2037,” she wrote. “If Monumental goes ahead and breaks its leases, the short-term impact will be tough, not only on the neighborhood, but on our entire city. But let me be clear: The city owns the land under the Capital One Arena and will own the building should Monumental break its lease.”

Lucas, the state senator, shared a similar concern.

“If Monumental Sports will renege on its agreement with DC why would we ever believe they would not do the same to us,” Lucas said Monday on X.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com