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The excitement in Congress Heights was “through the roof” on Saturday morning, September 22, as dignitaries including Mayor Muriel Bowser, Monumental CEO Ted Leonsis, Events DC’s Chairman Max Brown and CEO Greg O’Dell, and Mystics owner Sheila Johnson, along with representatives from the community and from district agencies, turned out to officially open the doors of the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Congress Heights.
Members of the community streamed in to enjoy the festivities, which included music from Rare Essence, and a variety of refreshments. Standing in attendance and joining in the celebration were also hundreds of people who were instrumental in the design and construction of the arena, including the architecture team of ROSSETTI and Michael Marshall Design.
“Economic growth is now coming to all sectors of our city,” said MMD president and design principal Michael Marshall. “It’s now time for the communities east of the Anacostia to take part in our city’s renaissance. The ESA is the catalyst for that growth.”
Mayor Bowser started off the festivities by emphatically saying to the crowd, “We took a big bet on Congress Heights,” the mayor said as cheers erupted. “And doesn’t Congress Heights deserve it,” she added to thunderous applause.
Events DC’s Max Brown and Greg O’Dell talked about the passion it took to conceive, plan, and execute the project. Sheila Johnson spoke proudly about the new home for her Washington Mystics. “We can’t wait for the fans to experience this,” she said. “The intimacy of this arena is going to be magical.”
Moments after Ms. Johnson spoke, the crowd gathered for the ceremonial ribbon cutting, and the doors opened for all to enter and view the facility.
The ESA was designed with maximum flexibility to allow a wide variety of events to be staged in the arena and allow for a multitude of uses. Serving a capacity of 4,200, it is designed in a unique C-shaped formation, creating a very intimate setting for basketball, concerts and esports by bringing guests closer to performers than a typical arena of this size. In the upper bowl along the angled “wings” the seats are wider and feature tables in between for a premium seating asset.
The ESA also has all the guest amenities expected in a larger arena, such as food service and concessions, as well as comfortable seating and wide concourses that are open to the bowl for constant connection to the event.
In addition to being the home court for the Washington Mystics and Capital City Go-Go, it will be the training facility for the Washington Wizards; this combination makes the arena a rare hybrid and unlike any other facility of its kind in the United States.
Also planned for the arena are other sports contests, including boxing, and college basketball, as well as esports competitions. The first concerts that will be hosted include performances by Mary J. Blige and Cage the Elephant in October.
A variety of community events and celebrations are also planned.
From a design perspective, it was important for the architects to respect the historic site in the design process.
It is always a challenge to bring a building of this scale to an historic neighborhood; the design required a sensitivity and respect to the context of the St. Elizabeths campus. The metal panels that were chosen not only provided a low cost, efficient solution, (the facility is designed to LEED Silver standards) and the specific terra cotta color palette was meticulously selected to complement the brick of surrounding buildings.
“We used industrial materials in a bespoke way, tweaking proportions and colors to a new level, to draw in the surrounding historic landscape,” said Michael Marshall. Added MMD Senior Architect Don Keppler, “The intent was to provide a direct visual relationship with the brickwork of the existing historic buildings of the campus – but to make that connection in a contemporary way through variegated metal panels in three different terracotta tones.”
MMD was proud to work with ROSSETTI, Smoot/Gilbane, Brailsford & Dunlavey, and Setty & Associates, and to partner with Events DC, the Congress Heights community, Mayor Muriel Bowser and her administration and numerous district agencies and other stakeholders.
Read coverage of the project from DC Curbed here.