Ward 8 Project for Wizards Practice Venue Merits Excitement but Concern From Residents

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    It’s been six weeks since Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced that Washington D.C. would be funding a new practice facility for the Wizards, which would double as an entertainment venue, in Southeast D.C., and on Oct. 26, over 100 residents arrived at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital to give their point of view.

    The overwhelming opinion?

    Excitement over the investment in Ward 8 — but fear that increased housing prices will drive out current residents while promised employment opportunities never surface.

    The plans include a 5,000-seat venue, according to the Washington Post, which will be located at the former St. Elizabeth’s Hospital campus. The project is estimated to cost around $56 million, to be funded by the city, Monumental Sports and Entertainment, and Events DC, which oversees sports and entertainment in the District and which receives funds from hotel and restaurant taxes.

    The project, according to the Washington Business Journal, would serve as a practice facility for the city’s NBA team, the Wizards, as a location for the WNBA Washington Mystics’ home games, and as a concert arena.

    It would almost certainly stimulate economic growth in the area, which is often still considered the shabbiest of the quadrants. But many residents around Columbia Heights, Shaw, and H Street have stated that they aren’t too sure about the whole thing.

    “I don’t want Ward 8 to look like that,” said one resident at the recent community meeting.

    She was referring to D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood, now better known as Gallery Place, after the District built the Verizon Center in 1997. Residents of Chinatown have benefitted quite a bit from the economic influx of visitors, as the Washington City Paper noted, and a “displacement-free zone” placed an extended halt on property taxes to ensure that residents (and business owners) wouldn’t be forced out of their community.

    This economic growth came at a price, however: the neighborhood has virtually lost all of its original culture as the city’s “Chinatown” and has become instead just another shopping and entertainment district. In an age where small businesses can increase sales by nearly 50% just by doing some simple blogging and content marketing, it’s possible for struggling businesses to gain stability at a fairly low cost.

    Do these small businesses really need the increased volume of visitors? And once the area has developed into the twin of Gallery Place, will local small businesses be able to compete with the certain introduction of massive national chain stores?

    Mayor Bowser seems determined to see the project through and to take advantage of the 173-acre deserted mental hospital campus on the east side of the Anacostia River.

    But what really matters is how the residents feel about it — so now it’s your turn to contribute. How do you feel about the project? What are your concerns? Be sure to comment or share this article and let us know.