Third-rate or first-rate? Football stadium: Defeat in legislature would send clear anti-business message.

February 01, 1996

THERE IS no better way to turn Maryland into a third-rate state than for the General Assembly to kill plans for a football stadium in Baltimore. It would entrench perceptions, warranted or not, that this state is anti-business.

A new $200 million self-supporting stadium, using extra lottery funds as seed money, would bring jobs and growth and celebrity to this region. Count the ways: 4,600 construction jobs, 1,400 permanent full-time equivalent jobs, tax receipts of $9 million a year, total economic impact estimated at $111 million annually. Even a dissenting analysis shows substantial economic gains for Maryland. But these facts have been lost in the demagogic propaganda foisted on the public by opponents.

Baltimore's downtown needs an NFL team because it brings in cash for restaurants, bars, hotels and shops. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and the city's business community should be in the vanguard of supporters. So should the entire metropolitan and state business community. Even Gov. Parris N. Glendening, in pushing the stadium cause in Annapolis, has failed to emphasize the key nexus between NFL football and economic growth. State development chief James Brady should be leading the charge.

If Maryland turns its back on the National Football League, the rebuff will long be remembered nationally. All the efforts to lure companies here with tax breaks and incentives will be undercut. Maryland's bothersome anti-business reputation, especially in the General Assembly, will be emblazoned on the minds of relocation executives coast-to-coast.

What companies want from government is reliability and predictability. That does not mean approving a stadium-financing law and then renouncing that law eight years later. It does not mean entering into a signed agreement with Browns owner Art Modell and then having the legislature undermine it.

NFL teams are treasured because they stamp a city as first-class. They also attract other businesses. For evidence, pick up the latest issue of Forbes magazine, where Jacksonville has taken out an ad boasting of its NFL club as proof it is "an expanding business city." If naysayers in the legislature have their way, Baltimore won't be in the same league even of a Jacksonville. It will be a town that under tawdry circumstances has reneged on a deal that is patently in its own best interests.

This is the moment when Maryland can prove it is first rate, when it can proclaim to the world that it is serious about being business-friendly, when it can adhere to a growth path that means jobs and security for its citizens. An opportunity of this nature comes rarely. It would be a severe loss, felt for many years to come, if Maryland drops this touchdown pass.

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