High stakes, high rewards: Coast Guard Boatswain’s Mate helms Capital One Arena

Chris Ashley ensures nothing misses a beat

September 29, 2022

Building engineers are vital to creating seamless, memorable experiences in venues. It's a reality Chris Ashley, Senior Facility Manager for JLL and Capital One Arena, knows all too well. If something fails here, it impacts thousands of people and potentially costs millions in revenue.

Capital One Arena is home to the NBA’s Washington Wizards and the NHL’s Washington Capitals, so up to 20,356 visitors could be under the roof on any given day. It hosts up to 300 events a year, making it the 15th busiest arenas in the world and the 5th busiest in the U.S.

"These sports games or concerts will happen no matter what," Chris said. "We operate in a can't fail world and have to solve any issue immediately."

Thankfully, Chris thrives on high stakes.

He cut his teeth working under pressure as a Boatswain’s Mate in the U.S. Coast Guard. In his decade of service, he traveled worldwide, working on tactical teams, anti-terrorist units, search and rescue, and law enforcement.

Chris chose the Boatswain’s Mate role because he thrives on solving problems and using his hands to get the job done. The bosun also is the only Coast Guard rank specifically able to do any job and be on any cutter. The varied challenges kept things lively.

After 10 years, Chris transitioned to a land-based career for family reasons. He leveraged his shipboard maintenance skills first in the HVAC field. Chris first encountered JLL on a service call at an engineering chief’s house. An on-the-spot interview turned into an official interview, followed by a job offer. He spent the next 20 years as an engineer for buildings around Washington, DC.

While on the property management side, Chris utilized JLL's professional development opportunities. Over six years, JLL sponsored him in prep classes to earn various licenses essential for his work and to progress to assistant chief engineer.

He applied for the Capital One Arena assistant engineer position on a whim. As Chris explains, he didn't know what he was getting into at the time.

"Capital One Arena is a totally different entity, almost like managing a small construction company,” Chris said. “I don't think I could return to a regular property management building. I'm drawn to the excitement of being a cog in this wheel they call sports and entertainment."

To handle what Chris calls an extremely demanding assignment, he relies on a department with over 30 staff, from a master carpenter to painters. Pulling permits and managing buildouts are a regular occurrence, as is the daily maintenance and tackling unexpected malfunctions.

In the last few years, the arena underwent around $60 million in renovations, including a new premium club and full lighting system upgrade. Chris’ team renovated locker rooms, training facilities, and an NHL server room.

Last year raised the bar. At the end of the 2021 season, a decision was made to invest in the current facilities. The 27-year-old arena still uses a lot of original equipment. The resulting capital investment will be essentially a whole new arena from a facilities standpoint.

It's a challenge Chris looks forward to, as does his team.

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“A large portion of my team are legacy employees that were here to open the arena,” said Chris. “Everyone’s excited about these investments because they’re seeing the arena come full circle.”

Multiple upgrade projects are underway as the sports season looms. Chris is particularly excited about the new desiccant system, which will help the hockey team meet the NHL’s humidity standards and potentially save the arena 30% on energy costs.

Meanwhile, Capital One Arena continues providing sports and entertainment events. It's up to Chris to ensure nothing misses a beat for the Engineering Department.

"Basically, the Arena is going to have a fresh start," said Chris. "There’s a huge opportunity not only to save revenue and to be a green facility but to improve the whole experience for everyone from players to visitors."

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