Wizards should investigate Washington Coliseum for their new practice facility

Welp: REI is moving there (Urban Turf) which seems like a pretty good use of the space, particularly for the spelunking crowd.

The Washington Wizards seek a new practice facility. They have been using Verizon Center auxiliary courts since the arena opened, but team owner Ted Leonsis wants a separate building. The model for this is his Capitals, who moved to what is now called Kettler Capitals Iceplex, a two-rink facility built on top of an Arlington County parking garage adjacent to Ballston Common Mall. The project was financed by the county and the Capitals rent and operate it. The modern amenities, convenient location to the core of the Caps fanbase and new rinks have been a positive for the team and the community. It’s not surprising that he wants to see if that can be reproduced for his basketball team.

The other morning as I was getting off the Red Line at NoMa, which should be called Swampoodle, (Ghosts of DC) station I looked over at the old Washington Coliseum and had a thought — could that be re-purposed into a new Wizards practice facility? Opened in 1941 as Uline Arena, Miguel Uline built it for his Washington Lions hockey team. The Lions uniforms inspired the Caps’ winter classic kit.

In the late 1940s it was the home of D.C.’s original basketball team, the Capitols, led by head coach and D.C. native Red Auerbach and the NBA’s first African-American player, Earl Lloyd. Oh and it also hosted the Beatles in their first public American concert in 1964. The ABA’s Caps played there for one season too and the album Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits’ cover photo was shot there. It’s been in developmental limbo for many years and currently acts as a parking garage.

The Coliseum has more practical advantages beyond history of course. Located a block from Metro (and only three stops from Gallery Place-Chinatown station which Verizon Center is on top of) is located in an upcoming neighborhood, visibility (thousands of commuters pass it daily) and is an existing footprint. A Clinton Yates column expressed concerns about permanent neighborhood disruption when Shaw was proposed (The Post) as a site.

Turning the Coliseum into a 21st century practice facility isn’t a silver bullet by any means. The building is owned by Douglas Realty would undoubtedly need significant renovations whether it is sold or leased. There would almost certainly need to be a parking garage, weight rooms, plumbing and probably food service built there as well. It’s not my money to spend and I suspect Leonsis would rather the District finance it rather than him. Whether it is economically feasible, desirable or even available, it is worth looking into, because this could be a real opportunity for the franchise as well as the District.


Ghosts of Hockey, Basketball and Rock 'n' Roll – Ghosts of DC.

Before Ovechkin: The Washington Lions and Uline Arena – Ghosts of DC.

A Brief History of the Washington Coliseum/Uline Arena – Beatlemania – Curbed DC.

Photos of The Beatles first appearance in America at Uline Arena (Washington Coliseum) on Feb 11, 1964 two days after their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.

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