Pollin, D.C. reach tentative arena deal

June 21, 1994|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Sun Staff Writer

The owner of the Capitals and Bullets signed a tentative agreement yesterday to relocate the teams from Landover to downtown Washington, a move of only about 12 miles that would end nearly 50 years of pro basketball and 20 years of pro hockey in the state.

Maryland officials expressed concern but held out hope that the deal would fail to win the approval of Washington political leaders and that the franchises will stay put.

"I don't think this makes it a done deal," said Bruce Hoffman, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority. "If they are successful, good for them. If they are not, then we're still in the picture."

State and county officials will proceed with feasibility studies for building a new arena in Prince George's County, in case the district city council is unable to agree on details of the $150 million project.

The Memorandum of Understanding, signed at 9:30 a.m. yesterday by team owner Abe Pollin and district business leaders, prohibits the teams from soliciting or considering proposals from any other jurisdiction, "directly or indirectly," before the end of the district council's current term, scheduled to recess July 15 but subject to extension.

But Prince George's County executive Parris N. Glendening said Mr. Pollin has assured him that he will continue to work with the Maryland Stadium Authority as it gathers data.

"He made it clear that this is simply a Memorandum of Understanding -- not a binding contract. As we discovered when Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke signed such a memo with Gov. Doug Wilder in Virginia and [Washington] Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, such a memo does not a contract make," Mr. Glendening said in a written statement.

Mr. Glendening's point man on the issue, Prince George's County attorney John Davey, said that the county and stadium authority will be able to complete enough preliminary work in the next three to five weeks to have the outlines of a proposal ready in case the talks falter.

The state and Prince George's County each have earmarked $250,000 for the feasibility study. Mr. Davey said that the preliminary work now under way will cost about $50,000 and that the rest won't be spent unless negotiations resume.

To land the teams, the district council and mayor would have to approve the free transfer of $60 million worth of city-owned land and come up with $27 million in funding for the first two years. By the third year, when events would be held at the arena, revenues would help defray $9 million a year in bond payments.

"The council would have to come up with a tax package," said City Councilman Jack Evans, in whose district the arena would be built. He acknowledged that any tax plan, including the employer fee now being considered, faces opposition, but said that the project has won support from many council members.

Kwasi Holman, executive vice president of the district Chamber of Commerce, which participated in the negotiations with Mr. Pollin, said: "Our initial reactions from the City Council have been extremely positive, and we're going to continue to work with the council and mayor."

Maryland officials have raised the possibility of blocking the project in Congress, which has to approve Washington's municipal budget.

"It would be naive to preclude it, but it's not being discussed now," Rep. Albert R. Wynn, a Maryland Democrat in whose district USAir Arena falls, said on Friday.

The National Basketball Association Bullets have played at the USAir Arena, formerly called the Capital Centre, since it was opened in Landover in 1973. For the 10 years prior to that, the team played in Baltimore and was known as the Baltimore Bullets, a name also used by basketball teams in different professional leagues during the '40s and '50s.

The Capitals, a National Hockey League expansion team, moved into the arena in 1974.

In his statement, Mr. Pollin said: "In making what was probably one of my life's most difficult decisions, I had to abandon my positive feelings for areas I've grown to love, and I also had to put aside my affection and deep respect" for Mr. Glendening and Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

"It was difficult for me not to respond to their diligent and sincere proposals," said Mr. Pollin, a native of Philadelphia who has lived most of his life in the Washington area.

He said that he liked the proposed site, at the Gallery Place in the District's Chinatown section, because of its ready access to the subway and the role it would play in revitalizing the city and unifying the region.

He said that he would continue to operate the USAir Arena, which he built and owns, as a venue for other events. Mr. Pollin's corporate headquarters also is on the site, and county officials hope that will remain even if the teams move.

Mr. Pollin's lease on the land, which is jointly owned by Prince George's and Montgomery counties, runs through 2002, and can be extended at the teams' option for three 10-year periods at the end of which the building reverts to the counties, Mr. Davey said. It requires Mr. Pollin to pay $50,000 a year and 1 percent of gross revenues from the facility.

Mr. Pollin called Mr. Schaefer yesterday to tell him of the agreement.

"If the two sides come to agreement in 30 days, he'll support Mr. Pollin's decision. But on day 31, if there has been no agreement, the state will step back in and negotiate aggressively," said Page W. Boinest, a spokeswoman for Mr. Schaefer.

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