College Park's costly arena $106 million edifice: Kirwan must find way to make proposal financially feasible.

December 07, 1997

AT $106 MILLION, a replacement for the aging Cole Field House on the University of Maryland's College Park campus may be more wishful thinking than cold-hearted realism -- especially if taxpayers are being asked to ante up $61 million for the sports palace.

That's the dilemma College Park President William E. "Brit" Kirwan confronts as he tries to reconcile the high cost of replacing antiquated but cozy Cole Field House with the need for a first-class athletic facility on the university's flagship campus.

The timing couldn't be worse, coming on the heels of an announced university-wide $700 million fund-raising drive for academic excellence. Half of that money is supposed to be zTC raised by Dr. Kirwan's campus. Doesn't the pursuit of $106 million for a sports arena conflict with the priority fund-raising for academics?

Dr. Kirwan has yet to sign off on a final proposal. He will have to devise a financing mechanism that does not unfairly burden state taxpayers and that does not interfere with the $700 million fund drive. Major sports boosters will probably have to make major financial commitments far beyond initial projections. And the arena itself must be stripped of frills.

Building a massive arena at College Park poses added complications. What, for instance, will the state offer other campuses that seek improved sports facilities? Will the College Park building turn into a year-round, for-profit venture, replacing USAir Arena as a multiple-entertainment site?

That, in turn, prompts questions about Baltimore's decrepit Arena, which is badly in need of replacement. If the General Assembly puts up tens of millions for an indoor sports facility to benefit Washington-area fans, shouldn't a major arena also be built to service the millions of sports fans in the Baltimore region?

All of these factors must be balanced in determining how -- and when -- Cole Field House is replaced. It's not simply a matter of building a new indoor basketball court for the Terps -- unless, of course, a filthy rich alumnus wants to pick up the entire tab.

Pub Date: 12/07/97

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