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Collapse of NBA-NHL arena deal sparks recriminations, allegations of impropriety in Virginia | Radio-Canada Sports


Wizards and Washington Capitals majority owner Ted Leonsis told a crowd in December that he had “goosebumps” at the thought of moving his NBA and NHL teams from Washington to Virginia, “if everything goes as planned.”

He does not have.

Leonsis’ handshake deal with Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin to move the teams to a taxpayer-funded arena in Alexandria, Va., collapsed Wednesday, weeks after a tough defeat in the Republican General Assembly. Virginia. Leonsis, apparently unwilling to wait for a second chance in Virginia, reappeared in Washington, which had offered his company Monumental Sports & Entertainment a more than half-billion-dollar U.S. arena deal to stay.

Abandoning the project, a top priority for Youngkin, sparked an extraordinary round of bitter recriminations among Virginia officials and companies party to the deal, including allegations of possible impropriety and slander. It has also sparked fears about the impacts on the state’s future economic development prospects.

“We made mistakes. I know the governor made mistakes. Monumental made mistakes. JBG made mistakes. And I’m sure the General Assembly made mistakes,” the mayor said. Alexandria, Justin Wilson, on the key players.

The wave of blame began when Alexandria announced the end of negotiations Wednesday, in a statement expressing disappointment with “what happened between the governor and the General Assembly.”

Democratic leaders in the General Assembly blamed Youngkin.

“He mismanaged the process,” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Surovell, who had agreed to sponsor legislation supporting the deal. The legislation called for a quasi-governmental entity to issue bonds to finance the majority of the project, repaid through a mix of projected tax revenues recovered from the development. Surovell’s bill never made it out of his own chamber — due to opposition from one of his colleagues, powerful Budget Committee Chairwoman L. Louise Lucas — even though a bill supplement was adopted by the House of Delegates.

House Speaker Don Scott criticized the governor for bringing the Legislature into the conversation too late in the game.

Youngkin told The Associated Press in an interview that he believes the Senate’s “politics and personal agendas” derailed what he calls the largest economic development deal in Virginia history.

JBG CEO says deal was derailed by ‘partisan politics’

Leonsis, during a press conference with DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, took some shots at Virginia. Meanwhile, JBG SMITH, a real estate company and partner in the deal as the proposed developer, went on a rampage.

In a statement, JBG CEO Matt Kelly questioned the motives of top Senate leaders, including Lucas, who had blocked the legislation and gleefully celebrated its demise on social media. Specifically, JBG questioned whether the arena was blocked as part of a “scheme” to benefit a competing developer, Comstock, which was pushing for a casino in northern Virginia. Kelly’s statement did so without mentioning any lawmaker or company by name, but still included enough context for the criticism to be understood by people closely following the case.

Kelly said the deal was derailed because of “partisan politics.” Without providing evidence, he also suggested that the outcome was influenced by “special interests and potential paid influences within the Virginia legislature.”

There was actually an 11-hour pitch to combine the casino and arena, Surovell said. But it was just one of several suggestions he made during the session to try to save the arena deal, he said.

Lucas said on social media that “the incompetent losers behind this effort are telling lies and conspiracy theories” instead of admitting their own failure.

Comstock CEO Chris Clemente told AP that the idea of ​​pairing the casino with the arena has been discussed by lawmakers from both parties. He rejected the idea that there was any coordinated attempt to delay the original deal in favor of an arena-casino pairing, calling JBG’s statement “slanderous” and “ridiculous.”

“I find all this inappropriate”

Wilson, the mayor, said in an interview that Richmond’s opaque legislative process erodes trust. He cited the work of political consultant Ben Tribbett, who is paid by both Lucas and Comstock, as creating an appearance of impropriety that casts doubt on whether Parliament acted in the public interest.

“I find all of this inappropriate,” he said.

Tribbett said it is not unusual for a consulting firm to advise many types of clients and that each client’s interests remain confidential from the others.

A number of other factors contributed to the failure of the Alexandria project, according to interviews with lawmakers and others close to the negotiations, who for months described the negotiations as chaotic or worse.

Youngkin never enjoyed vocal support from Republican lawmakers, who mostly kept their heads down as the deal imploded. The project also faced well-organized local opposition.

Alexandria Economic Development Director Stephanie Landrum said the failure to close the deal due to what she considers politics will cause other potential businesses looking to come to the commonwealth to wondering if they should come to Virginia.

But Greg LeRoy, executive director of the incentives watchdog Good Jobs First, said it’s laughable to think that turning away a sports team seeking public funding would harm the state’s business climate.

“Other areas would kill for a business climate like Northern Virginia’s,” said LeRoy, whose organization opposed the deal.

Youngkin said Virginia deserved better than the way things turned out, but he understood why Leonsis moved on.

“Ultimately, you’re going to have to negotiate something else. And, boy, did DC provide him with a remarkable alternative,” he said.


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