Chasing Bullets

June 11, 1994

The rivalry between Prince George's County and the District of Columbia to build a successor to the 20-year-old USAir Arena re-emphasizes that the basketball Bullets and hockey Capitals are metropolitan Washington's teams. They are not the Washington-Baltimore Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Area's teams.

In the two decades since the Bullets fled the Civic Center (now Arena) in post-riot downtown Baltimore, where few souls would venture after dark, much has happened. That part of Baltimore is alive and vibrant. Metro and light rail arrived. Baltimore emerged as one of the nation's premier basketball talent pools. Enthusiasm plays above the rim. Local colleges are playing Division I and threatening to break into the big time.

A minor market with a major professional franchise was transformed into a major market with no professional team. The occasional visits from the Bullets show the interest here, while rubbing in that they are a visiting team. It is doubtful the Bullets will continue to come after acquiring the moral responsibility of revenue bonds to be paid off for a custom-built arena in the District of Columbia or in Prince George's County.

Baltimoreans can see the virtue of a 21,000 seat arena atop the Gallery Place Metro stop in D.C., a three-point shot from the Washington Convention Center and Chinatown restaurants. Baltimoreans can sympathize with Prince George's countians accustomed to the benefits of a major arena they proudly call their own. Baltimoreans can wonder why the USAir Arena (formerly the Capital Centre) wasn't built to remain viable and competitive longer than 20 years.

What Baltimoreans will not do in any consistently great numbers is attend the new arena in either locale, or regard it as theirs.

At first glance, an ideal site for a state-of-the-art Baltimore's-own arena, to hold a new NBA franchise and have many uses year-round, is the parking lots north of Camden Station, south of Pratt Street, west of the Convention Center. This site would have synergy with Oriole Park and the Convention Center, providing business at different times for the same parking garages, restaurants and public transport. Good suburban sites might be offered as well, the State Fairgrounds in Timonium coming to mind.

Competition between Prince George's County and the District of Columbia for sports magnate Abe Pollin's favor is like the NBA finals between the New York Knicks' Patrick Ewing and the Houston Rockets' Hakeem Olajuwon: It looms as a titanic struggle, but few of us in the Baltimore area will consider it our fight.

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