The owner of Baltimore's pro hockey team laid out plans yesterday for a 10,000-seat coliseum in southwest Baltimore County, a project that would serve as the county's first sports and entertainment complex and serve up direct competition for the Baltimore Arena.
The name: County Coliseum.
The price: $42 million.
The owner: Michael A. Caggiano, 39, the upstart businessman who bought the financially troubled Baltimore Bandits hockey team this year and now wants to build it a new home.
Yesterday, on a brisk sunny morning, Caggiano stood at the 33-acre site in the Beltway Business Park and unveiled his ambitious plans to transform the mostly barren land into a thriving complex by 1998. "This is going to be a destination for a lot of people," he said. "We see it as a new day."
But key questions remain about the project -- and the money needed to build it.
Caggiano said financing will "primarily" come from private sources, but confirmed that he expects the county and state to be financial contributors. To what degree, and in what form, he would not say.
And already, a turf war is brewing -- between the proposed coliseum and the established Baltimore Arena, current home to the Bandits and site of concerts, circuses and tractor pulls that could be pulled to the newer venue.
The Arena, home to 190 to 220 events a year, is bracing for competition from the slightly smaller coliseum, which aims to draw at least 150 events a year.
"Certainly the Arena will fight for every event that we can in the building," said Edie Brown, spokeswoman for Centre Management, the Landover company that manages the Arena.
"I think that an arena downtown makes more sense, given the success of the new Convention Center," Brown said. "I would think most of our major shows will stick with us, the Sesame Street, the Ringling Brothers."
But to Caggiano and others, the County Coliseum makes more business sense.
In Caggiano's view, the site, in the Beltway Business Park, is a 20-minute drive for 1.2 million potential customers, offering a natural home for a sports team whose fans primarily flock from the suburbs -- Harford, Howard, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties.
The coliseum would house the Bandits' 40 home games a year, beginning in 1998. And it could host other events such as concerts, indoor soccer, lacrosse and college basketball.
Still, it's not a sure bet the coliseum would survive.
Last year, its inaugural season, the Bandits drew an average 3,600 fans a night. For the new coliseum to thrive, the team would have to draw at least 5,000 a game on average, Caggiano said, and the facility would need to draw 150 events a year.
County officials embraced the plan with cautious optimism.
Councilman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, the Catonsville Democrat whose district would benefit from a new arena, praised the economic prospects: new jobs, an increased tax base, the luster of the county's own sports complex.
"Great things are happening in the 1st District," Moxley said.
But he and spokesmen for County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger said they're waiting for the details before passing judgment.
"From our perspective, they haven't even come out and laid the plans on the table and said, 'Here's what we plan to build,' " said Michael H. Davis, Ruppersberger's chief spokesman.
Caggiano, whose capital and consulting firm, Falcon Advisors Inc., bought the site Friday, is looking to get the ball rolling. He is scheduled to meet Monday with Robert L. Hannon, executive director of the county's Department of Economic Development.
"It would not surprise me if financing came up," Hannon said.
"There are a lot questions that we have to have answered in terms of size, shape, configuration, how it impacts the traffic and all the rest of it," Hannon said. "But generally, Mike Caggiano is to be congratulated for the steps he's taken so far."
Caggiano is accustomed to building from the ground up.
In February, he assumed ownership of a hockey team dogged by financial trouble.
Under the previous ownership, the team's problems included unpaid debts of $500,000 to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Calif., the Bandits' NHL parent club, and $100,000 to the American Hockey League, The Sun reported at the time Caggiano took the reins.
Caggiano also said he inherited a $50,000 state amusement tax debt, which is being paid off on a payment plan.
Asked about the problems yesterday, Caggiano offered an optimistic assessment.
"I think we're rock solid financially," he said. "Our bills are paid or being paid. We had some debts from the old owners that were ei- ther paid off or settled. All the new bills, as far as I know, are paid current."
Community leaders said they were excited about the project -- and eager to learn more details.