Pollin, D.C. talking deal on moving to Washington

June 08, 1994|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer John W. Frece contributed to this article.

Washington business leaders and the owner of the Bullets and Capitals are working on a proposal that could move the teams from Prince George's County to a new, publicly financed arena in Northwest Washington.

A team official said no decision has been made to move, but others say the concept has won the support in principle of two important constituencies: Bullets and Capitals owner Abe Pollin and the Federal City Council, an influential Washington business group.

Pollin and the council are close to signing off on a letter of understanding that would begin a potentially lengthy study period, according to one source familiar with the talks. A number of elements, including a proposed increase in the district's liquor tax to finance the $150 million arena, would have to win approval in the District of Columbia City Council.

Meanwhile, talks could continue with Maryland and Virginia, which also have expressed interest in the teams.

"There is no agreement. We haven't reached any conclusion. We still have discussions with all three jurisdictions," said Jerry Sachs, a top aide to Pollin and president of the USAir Arena in Landover, where the NBA Bullets and NHL Capitals play.

He declined to categorize the level of talks with any of the contending sites, or predict when a decision would be made.

"It's difficult to say when things are going to get done. We're pleased with how they are going," Sachs said.

Meanwhile, Maryland officials say they are about to select consultants, including Camden Yards architects HOK, to begin the detailed work of exploring options for the teams in Prince George's County. The Maryland General Assembly this year approved $250,000 for the studies, which is being matched by the county under a budget item approved last week.

The state legislation prevents spending the money until July 1, although some work is expected to begin shortly. Washington business groups already have hired and have been working with consultants.

"We intend to compete, and I think Maryland can be as aggressive and competitive. We have the site and the ability to deliver," said Parris N. Glendening, Prince George's County executive.

After reading of the Washington plan, first reported in yesterday's Washington Post, Glendening met for an hour with Pollin and came away encouraged.

"He assured me that there is no deal, that there have been very constructive discussions going on. I told him Maryland was very eager to have them stay in Prince George's County," said Glendening, a candidate for governor.

He said he would support an extension of the Washington Metro to USAir Arena and an eventual connection with Maryland's commuter rail network at Bowie.

The Washington site presents a number of problems, said Dorn McGrath, chairman of an advisory committee of civic leaders of the Federal City Council. Underground parking may have to be built, long-term plans to encourage residential development in the area amended, and G Street -- part of Pierre L'Enfant's original design of the city -- may have to be rerouted, McGrath said.

McGrath, a professor of urban studies at George Washington University, said he's not sure the arena would be the best use of the land or complement larger development plans for downtown.

"It has the support of a key element of the business community, and they have a lot of influence with the city council," McGrath said of the proposed site, at 6th and G streets, not far from the Gallery Place Metro stop in Northwest Washington.

An aide to a Washington City Council member said: "As far as anyone can tell, there is no commitment. It's a process. But everyone is optimistic about it."

The City Council yesterday passed a comprehensive development plan for the District that lists an arena among several options for the city-owned Gallery Place site.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who convened in March a summit of state and local officials at USAir Arena, was out of the country yesterday. His chief of staff, Paul E. Schurick, said:

"We are moving full steam ahead under our original scenario, which is studying and planning for the construction of an arena in Maryland, with the intention, the presumption at least, that we were going to begin with evaluation of a Largo [near Landover] site."

Officials with the Federal City Council did not respond to requests for information about the Washington proposal, and a spokeswoman for Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly said, "We're not a liberty to comment on it at this time."

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