From Del. Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, the former Vice Mayor of Alexandria who currently represents the Potomac Yard area as part of her House of Delegates district…
I will be voting no today on the bill before us to create the Virginia Sports and Entertainment Authority and Financing Fund.
I represent constituents who are adamantly opposed to the proposed Potomac Yard arena and entertainment district, I represent constituents who enthusiastically support it, and I represent constituents who are not sure.
Having served on City Council, I know the serious economic challenges that we face as a community, especially because Alexandria has to fund so much of our local services and infrastructure itself. I understand why our City Council wants the opportunity to continue to evaluate this proposal with our community – it could be an unprecedented economic development opportunity to diversify our tax base, which currently falls disproportionately on our residents. This was an issue before the pandemic, and it has only worsened since, with demand for office space plummeting. Without economic development, the financial needs of our City – from paying our first responders and teachers, to renovating and building schools, to funding infrastructure to mitigate flooding – will only be paid for through increased real estate taxes. However, I also know there are many questions about the financials and I have not yet seen the third-party review that the state has procured.
The proposal would have a significant impact on transportation in our community. Despite the Governor’s recently released transportation study, there remain a lot of concerns and questions. Besides the effects of the proposal on Route 1 and surrounding roads, and the critical, long-term investment needed for WMATA regardless of this proposal, it is unclear what the Commonwealth is actually committing to in terms of transportation funds.
Our community also cares about housing and this proposal could create a lot of affordable housing. The district would catalyze and create affordable housing units, and provide dedicated local funding through our local meals tax and property tax, as well as dedicated state funding for the Housing Trust Fund. However, residents of Arlandria need commitments that they will not be displaced in the near-future, before those effects may be realized.
Our community also cares about workers. We want assurances that workers across the entertainment district, during construction and operation, would have good-paying jobs through Project Labor and Labor Peace Agreements. The Governor’s Administration has made no such commitments.
Finally, if this bill were to move forward, our representation on the Authority needs to be increased. The original bill only gave Alexandria one-third of members on the authority. The substitute adds members, diluting Alexandria’s representation to only one-fifth of the membership. That is unacceptable for a project that would so dramatically affect our community.
Over the past few months, I have been continually frustrated with the Youngkin Administration and their lack of forthcomingness. The Administration has failed to share important details and failed to give good-faith guarantees for workers and worker protections.
Given the significant impacts the proposed entertainment district would have on our community, I cannot in good faith vote for this without more information on the financing of the project, a more sustained commitment to WMATA funding, state funded transportation improvements to mitigate its effects, protections for workers, displacement protections for Arlandria residents, and appropriate representation of Alexandrians on the Authority.