D.C.: Pollin road not like past dead ends

June 09, 1994|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Sun Staff Writer

The site of a proposed new Washington arena for the Washington Bullets and Capitals is a virtual graveyard for development, in a city that demonstrated, through an inability to come to terms with the Redskins over a new stadium, difficulty in getting such projects built.

But this one will be different, said Jack Evans, the District of Columbia council member in whose Northwest Washington district the arena would be built.

Capitals and Bullets owner Abe Pollin is close to signing a letter of understanding laying out the framework for a publicly financed facility for his teams, which now play at USAir Arena in Landover. Leading the negotiations for Washington has been a private business group, the Federal City Council.

"I think what you see in this deal is more involvement of the business community and less elected officials," Evans said.

Talks aimed at building a stadium for the Redskins in Washington failed, in part, due to personality conflicts between team owner Jack Kent Cooke and Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, Evans said.

"I think it's a real credit to the people involved that they have kept personalities and egos out of it. If this happens, it will be a textbook study in how to make these things happen," Evans said.

He predicted the biggest hurdles the $150 million project must clear now are financial ones. Discussions have focused on a combination of revenue-sharing and an increase in the city's liquor tax.

The secrecy that surrounded the negotiations during the past several months, and the speed with which consultants were hired and preliminary work performed, has given Washington an advantage over competing suitors in Maryland and Virginia, he said.

"I think we have a leg up. But I'll believe it when I see balls tossed up there," Evans said. He noted that ground has been broken at the city-owned site for a number of projects that were never completed, including a hotel, a Far East trade center and an office building.

The Maryland Stadium Authority will formally award a number of consultant contracts next week aimed at studying the feasibility of building a new arena near the old one in Prince George's County, said Bruce Hoffman, stadium authority executive director.

"We are starting to meet and are looking at the site, the costs, the economic benefits to the state and county, with an eye toward whether building a new arena makes economic sense for Maryland," he said.

Legislation passed in the last General Assembly session provided for $250,000 to study building a new arena, to be matched by the county. That money could not be spent until the new fiscal year, beginning July 1, and any agreement to build an arena would have to be approved by the legislature when it meets in January.

"We can't go any faster than we are going, but we're going to go as fast as we can and if Washington moves ahead of us I don't know what we can do," Hoffman said.

Team officials say that no decision has been made whether to move the teams and that talks are under way with Maryland, Virginia and Washington.

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