D.C. Councilman Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) readied for a fight ahead of the council’s legislative meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 5, planning to fund the expansion of the Fort Dupont Ice Arena by thwarting Mayor Muriel Bowser’s attempt to redirect $21 million from the facility via a disapproval resolution that he intended to move at the meeting.
However, by Tuesday, Gray had worked with City Administrator Rashad Young and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) to push the consideration of the arena’s funding for the Feb. 19 legislative meeting.
At the pre-legislative session breakfast meeting on Feb. 5, Gray explained the decision to his colleagues.
“I withdrew the disapproval resolution and will work with the executive branch and the council for a solution that will be introduced on Feb. 19,” Gray said.
The arena rests in Ward 7 and is utilized by residents from all over the District. A large number of people also comes over from Maryland and Virginia to skate and participate in its programs.
Bowser told the Ward 3 Democratic Club on Jan. 31 said the money for the arena’s upgrade “was just sitting there” in the city budget and could be better utilized for more pressing matters such as repairing school buildings and infrastructure. The mayor said funding for the arena could take place during the 2020 budget cycle.
When the Friends of the Fort Dupont Ice Arena (FDIA) association got wind of what Bowser wanted to do a few weeks ago, the leaders instituted a strategy that included contacting D.C. council members, members of the community and the media. The strategy culminated in visits to council member offices on Feb. 4 to explain why the arena needed the funds now.
“We visited the offices of the council members to explain what was going on,” said Patrice Willoughby, a board member of the FDIA. “We wanted the councilmembers to know where we have worked well with the D.C.’s General Services Administration and the Department of Parks and Recreation and where we haven’t worked as well. We are very happy to have Council member Gray as our champion.”
Willoughby said she is cautious but encouraged by the latest developments.
“We are happy that the city wants to come to the table and discuss with us about going forward,” she said.
A meeting took place with the leadership of FDIA, Mendelson, Gray and Bowser administration executives on Feb. 6.
The arena served as the only indoor rink in the District, with its building taking place in 1976 by the National Park Service. In 1996, the FDIA took over the management of the arena after residents’ complaints of poor management by the National Park Service.
Since that time, the FDIA has instituted a number of programs primarily for young people, including ice skating lessons and skating teams plus competitions with other ice skating clubs in the country.
The FDIA wants to use the $21 million from the District government to build another rink and modernize the facility. The FDIA has been on track to raise $5 million to add to the $21 million to fund the expansion and modernization of the rink.
The plight of the arena has gone national. Monumental Sports and Entertainment launched a crowdfunding campaign on Feb. 3 to help the FDIA.
Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis and the NHL have pledged $100,000 to the FDIA effort, with an ultimate goal of $500,000.
Councilman Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) started the process of the arena being upgraded and the District government paying for it.
“My son played ice hockey at Gonzaga and had a game at the Fort Dupont Ice Arena and I went there to see him play 11 years ago,” Evans told his colleagues. “I was horrified at how badly the rink looked and then I talked to [then-Council] Chairman Gray about getting it modernized and he agreed with him.”
In 2013, Gray, as mayor of the District, budgeted $15 million for the new construction at the arena with the understanding that the FDIA would raise $5 million to pay for the work. However in 2014, Gray lost the mayoral Democratic primary to Bowser and the $15 million did not get allocated.
When Bowser became mayor in 2015, she became disengaged from the project, though she set aside $10 million for the arena in her 2017 budget.
When Gray got back on the council in 2017, he worked with Evans and Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) to put an additional $10 million in the budget for the arena’s completion.
Evans noted, with Gray’s nodding approval, that the $30 million needed to complete the project can be gotten from the District’s budget and the $5 million campaign by the FDIA need not continue.
“This is an embarrassment” Evans said. “It’s 11 years later and this is still not done.”
Tyrell Holcomb, who serves as the chairman of 7F advisory neighborhood commission, said the arena needs to be expanded and modernized.
“I think we have a situation here where a commitment was made to the residents of Ward 7 and the community at large and it wasn’t followed through,” Holcomb said. “I don’t think it is right for the sit to renege on that commitment and that commitment needs to be honored.”