Schaefer supports arena study

March 19, 1994|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Sun Staff Writer

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, saying he does not want to lose the Washington Capitals or Washington Bullets to another state, met with legislative leaders yesterday and agreed to support spending $500,000 on a study of a new Prince George's County arena for the teams to replace 20-year-old USAir Arena.

"Now is the time to make a commitment and say to Mr. Pollin that we want the Capitals and Bullets to stay in Prince George's County/Largo area and, if not there, then in the state," Mr. Schaefer said.

And he said the public probably would have to pay for a new arena, even though Abe Pollin, owner of the NBA Bullets, NHL Capitals and their arena, built the facility with his own money. Mr. Schaefer said the team owner wouldn't do so again and that other states inevitably would make such an offer.

"I think we've got to realize that the state has to be a major player. . . . You'll get your money back over time," he said, contending that the economic spinoff of an arena would justify the public investment.

Mr. Schaefer convened an athletic summit yesterday at USAir Arena in Landover, with Mr. Pollin, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany; Senate President Michael V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's; Delegates Timothy F. Maloney and Gary R. Alexander, both Prince George's County Democrats; Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th; Mark Wasserman, Department of Economic and Employment Development secretary; and others.

After a closed-door lunch, the entourage toured the facility, in the midst of an NCAA basketball tournament first-round game, and reported it fit for duty, but not up to major-league sports standards.

"Mr. Pollin says this won't operate economically unless we have a new arena," Mr. Schaefer said.

Mr. Pollin was unavailable for comment yesterday, but Jerry Sachs, president of the USAir Arena and vice chairman of the Bullets, said: "We're grateful to the governor and president of the Senate and speaker of the House and the others for their interest in keeping the teams in Maryland."

He said the teams have not narrowed site selection. "We're anxious to understand what's available in the entire region," Mr. Sachs said.

Mr. Schaefer said Mr. Pollin did not threaten to leave the state, but the governor acknowledged that efforts are under way elsewhere -- chiefly Washington and Virginia -- to lure the teams.

"Mr. Pollin has continually said he wants to stay here," Mr. Schaefer said. Mr. Schaefer said he, Mr. Miller and Mr. Taylor would support legislation to designate $500,000 of the state's capital budget toward the study, which would focus on the feasibility of an arena in Prince George's County.

He said he would ask the county to contribute a like amount for the study, which would explore the team's needs, possible sites, costs and related matters. The study also may explore renovating the existing arena, which holds 18,756 for basketball, but the governor said he did not think that was a good option.

"I don't know where [an arena would be built] or whether this one can be utilized. I think it can't, but it has great possibilities as a second arena," he said.

Mr. Taylor said: "I'm committed to doing everything I can do to keep these franchises in Maryland. If Abe Pollin believes they should stay right here, they should stay right here. We're crazy not to do everything we can to save these franchises."

Mr. Miller, whose district contains USAir Arena, left the meeting early and declined to comment other than to say, "It was a very positive meeting."

The team also has expressed interest in moving to an arena at Camden Yards, if a football team does not move there. And Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke invited Mr. Pollin to build an arena near his proposed football stadium in Laurel.

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