Down in the Weeds at Potomac Yard, Part II
Meet the new and evolving Virginia Sports and Entertainment Authority
The General Assembly and the Virginia Sports and Entertainment Authority
The Virginia General Assembly’s 2024 legislative session is scheduled to end on March 9. The General Assembly’s authorization of the new Virginia Sports and Entertainment Authority (VSEA) is necessary for the proposed sports and entertainment complex at Potomac Yard to become a reality.
VSEA has a crucial role in the proposed Potomac Yard project. VSEA will own the land under the proposed sports and entertainment complex and be the landlord of Monumental Sports and Entertainment (MSE), the owner of the Washington Wizards and Capitals. VSEA will issue $1.05 billion in Project Revenue Bonds and $416 million in Lease Revenue Bonds to build the arena and the performance venue. MSE will operate the arena and, in partnership with Alexandria, manage the performance venue.
VSEA’s Evolving Composition
The House Substitute Bill
On February 9, the House Appropriations Committee approved a substitute bill by a vote of 17-3. Here is the provision (highlighting added) on VSEA’s composition in the substitute bill:
The House Appropriations Committee’s adoption of the substitute bill reduces Alexandria’s VSEA representation, measured by the city’s appointees, from one-third (3 of 9 members) to one-fifth (3 of 15 members) while the General Assembly acquired the same number (5) of VSEA appointees as the Governor. The result is that one-third of VSEA’s appointees will represent the Governor, one-third will represent the General Assembly, and one-third will represent local interests (Alexandria-3, Arlington County-1, MSE-1.)
The wheeling and dealing in Richmond about the VSEA is probably not finished. In a February 7 email about VSEA’s make-up, Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson wrote, “I suspect you'll see that language change a few times before it becomes final.”
Alexandria’s City Council on VSEA’s Composition and Local Control
Among the most interesting parts of the City Council’s January 27 town hall on the Potomac Yard project were the responses to questions on VSEA’s composition and whether decisions about the Potomac Yard project will be made in Richmond or in Alexandria. Those responses begin at 1:24:20.
This segment, about 6 minutes, of the town hall shows that the familiar tension between local control and state control from Richmond is very evident as the General Assembly, the Governor, Alexandria, and MSE negotiate the VSEA legislation.
At the town hall, Councilor Kirk McPike spoke about the language in the original House bill that specified 6 VSEA appointments by the Governor and 3 appointments by the City Council. “I don’t love that breakdown, personally,” said McPike, “I would like to see our delegation to Richmond push for a 5-4 split, maybe even a 4-5 split. These are the sorts of things that we have legislators and advocates [for] who can actually propose amendments and make changes down in Richmond.”
Councilor Canek Aguirre was direct about the 9-member VSEA described in the original House bill. “If it moves forward in the current language, I’m voting ‘No,” Aguirre said, “We need to have control over the city with what we’re doing.” Aguirre said, “Then the city has the ability to have a larger voice in this conversation. We cannot have outside groups dictating what we want to see here in Alexandria.”
Last week’s approval of the substitute bill by the House Appropriations committee suggests that Alexandria’s influence on the VSEA is diminishing, not increasing, in the negotiations in Richmond. This seems to be true even though Alexandria and the commonwealth will incur the same amount ($558 million each) of contingent payment obligations on VSEA’s bonds.
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