Make way for the GuvPlex

March 02, 1994|By James Hunt

DESPITE heroic efforts, Herb Belgrad and the Maryland Stadium Authority didn't meet the Valentine's Day deadline for persuading a National Football League team to move to Baltimore.

It's probably just as well. The idea of spending $170 million for a football-only stadium that would sit empty all but eight Sundays a year was a little disconcerting, even to a hard-core sports fan.

Still, a new sports facility would have long-term economic benefits for the city and the state. Let's not give up on the idea of building one on the lots near the fabulously successful Oriole Park. But let's make sure it can be used year-round.

I propose that the stadium authority be empowered to construct the Governor William Donald Schaefer Sports Tri-plex and Intermodal Transportation Center at Camden Yards.

The "GuvPlex," as it would be known, could be a mecca for the state's sports fans. Besides being accessible -- its site bounded by the MARC commuter rail lines, I-395, Martin Luther King Boulevard and Russell Street (the Baltimore end of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway) -- it would offer something for everyone in four unique, interconnected structures.

* Basketball, ice hockey, gymnastics, tennis, boxing and indoor soccer and lacrosse (plus circuses, concerts and conventions) would be featured in Nipper Arena, named in honor of the larger-than-life RCA dog who once greeted travelers from a nearby Russell Street warehouse. (Nipper was hustled out of town in the late 1970s, eerily presaging the heist of the Colts in 1984.)

If Abe Pollin, who long ago pulled the basketball Bullets out of the obsolete Baltimore Arena -- and eho is dissatisfied with the 20-year-old USAir Arena in Landover -- would be willing to rename his NBA and NHL teams the "Maryland Ravens" and "Maryland Rhinos," respectively, he could have a new home for his menagerie.

* Maryland's prospective Canadian Football League franchise, track and field events, and jousting (the state sport) would be at home in Memorial Stadium II. Like the Pride of Baltimore II, the new stadium would resemble its predecessor, but it would be more up-to-date. Behind the noble facade honoring those who died in the world wars would be a state-of-the-art grass field ringed by skyboxes. The boxes, however, would be large enough fTC to double as hotel rooms, and would be rented out all year. The hotel could cater to jock wannabes, who would be allowed on the field on non-game days to play out their sports fantasies.

* Just about every other sport would be represented in the Sports Center USA. This is actually on the drawing boards. Some prominent local citizens have proposed a $32 million, privately-financed facility by that name. It would include sports camps, the film archives from ABC-TV's "Wide World of Sports" and computer-generated "virtual reality" athletic competition simulators (no pain, no stains). Right now, plans call for Sports Center USA to be located in the Power Plant. But it would do better in Camden Yards, where every day tens of thousands of sports fans would see it.

* The fourth and final element of the GuvPlex would be the Intermodal Transportation Center, the definitive answer to gripes that the USAir Arena and Memorial Stadium aren't easily accessible to fans from other parts of the state.

The ITC would serve MARC trains from Washington and suburban D.C., light rail trains, MTA buses and buses from all over Maryland. (Later, a Disneyesque monorail -- the Walter S. Orlinsky Memorial Monorail? -- could link Camden Yards, the Convention Center, downtown and the Inner Harbor.)

Fitting all these elements (plus parking) together on this site would be a challenge. Surely, the stadium authority -- which brought Maryland the most talked-about baseball park in the country -- is up to the task. The GuvPlex would put our state in the national spotlight again.

The only question is how to pay for it. Start by looking for corporate sponsorship to fund the Nipper Arena, a national hotel chain to cover a portion of Memorial Stadium II and federal transportation dollars for the Intermodal Center. (Sports Center USA would be wholly paid for by private investors.) Use the money already raised for a football stadium to help pay for the GuvPlex. Once built, it will be used almost constantly, enabling it to pay off its bonds and add to the state's coffers through income and entertainment taxes and other levies.

Economic benefits aside, we have our pride to consider. It's 10 years since Bob Irsay split with our Colts and four months since Paul Tagliabue & Co. snubbed us.

Let's build the GuvPlex and rub the NFL's owners' noses in the sweet deal they passed up.

James Hunt is a former editor of Lacrosse magazine. He writes from Baltimore.

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