Glendening wants state to foster sports arena CAMPAIGN 1994 -- THE RACE FOR GOVERNOR

June 09, 1994|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer

As state officials try to figure out how to keep the Bullets and Capitals sports franchises from leaving Maryland, only one candidate for governor says unequivocally that the states should play a major role in building the teams an arena.

"There would have to be some significant state participation," Democrat Parris N. Glendening, the three-term Prince George's County executive, said yesterday.

The professional basketball and hockey teams play in Mr. Glendening's home county -- at the USAir Arena in Landover -- but are being wooed by District of Columbia officials, who are trying to put together a plan to build a $150 million arena in downtown Washington.

"We have to sharpen our pencils," Mr. Glendening said, and come up with "the same type of public-private partnerships that have made these kinds of deals work all across the country."

He declined to say how much the state should spend on an arena for the teams, saying that would be premature.

Three other gubernatorial candidates -- state Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski of Baltimore and Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg of Pikesville, both Democrats, and 2nd District Republican Rep. Helen Delich Bentley -- reluctantly agreed that some state money could be needed to build an arena for Abe Pollin, who owns both teams, but only if it could be proved that keeping his teams in Maryland would benefit the state economically.

"I highly resent having a gun stuck in my ribs," Mr. Miedusiewski said. He said he would "have no problem sitting down and negotiating on a serious basis . . . But we can't give away the farm."

Mrs. Bentley, speaking through a spokesman, stipulated that private funds would have to be part of any arena financing.

Steinberg spokesman Dan Walter said, "If it turns out that it is not beneficial for a team to be in the state, then we would just let it go. If it's going to be an economic benefit, we would sit down and negotiate."

The other three major candidates in the race -- retired diplomat William S. Shepard of Montgomery County and Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey of Baltimore County, both Republicans, and state Sen. Mary H. Boergers of Montgomery County, a Democrat -- said it might be appropriate to spend state funds on roads or other infrastructure needs associated with an arena. But they said state money should not be used for construction of the arena itself.

Mr. Shepard noted that Mr. Pollin undoubtedly has claimed a depreciation allowance for the USAir Arena and said the purpose of that tax break is to give owners the opportunity to build a reserve for construction of a replacement arena. "Why hasn't he done that?" Mr. Shepard asked.

Mrs. Sauerbrey said, "Obviously, I don't want to see the teams move. But team owners can continuously blackmail the governor by saying, 'If you don't build us another arena, we'll go somewhere else.' " As a legislator, she has been a steadfast opponent of using taxpayers' money for professional sports facilities, including the Orioles' Camden Yards baseball stadium.

Ms. Boergers said her emphasis would be on education. "We have to live within our resources, and building luxury skyboxes instead of building schools is wrong," she said.

Mr. Pollin is said to be close to signing a letter of understanding with Washington officials, but Maryland and Prince George's County officials are proceeding with their efforts to keep the teams in Maryland.

Mr. Glendening met with Mr. Pollin for an hour Tuesday and said afterward that he was assured the team had not made any deal with district officials.

Over the winter, the General Assembly authorized $250,000 to study options for an arena for the Bullets and Capitals, an amount matched by funds from Prince George's County. Those studies are scheduled to begin next month.

Even if state officials succeed this year in striking their own deal to keep the teams in Maryland, there is no assurance that the incoming governor would have to abide by it.

Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Israel said the new governor will have the constitutional authority to submit a budget containing funds for a new arena or to omit the money even if the Schaefer administration signs a contract promising a payment.

Moreover, any funds included in the budget could be reduced or eliminated by the incoming General Assembly, Mr. Israel said,

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