Arena in Fells Point? Schmoke idea: Mayor wants AlliedSignal site studied for sports and entertainment use.

December 12, 1997

THE PROPOSED 41-story Wyndham hotel seems to be just the opening salvo in Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's plans to intensify the use of the city's shoreline from the Inner Harbor East to Fells Point. Yesterday, he flashed the possibility that a new sports and entertainment complex might be built in Fells Point to replace the antiquated Arena.

Mr. Schmoke said a vacant 20-acre harbor-front parcel owned by AlliedSignal is "among the options that . . . we want to look at."

He said the "preferred" location for the new facility is Howard Street, where the city built its Civic Center in 1962. After the construction of the Convention Center nearby, the older hall became a venue of sports events and concerts.

Mr. Schmoke is correct that the 1960s Arena has outlived its usefulness. But the suggestion that a facility seating from 13,000 (the Arena's current capacity) to 20,000 spectators be built in Fells Point is shocking, given the historic area's inadequate streets, lack of parking and its indirect expressway access.

The mayor dismissed such doubts by saying that when "a people mover" is built to benefit the Wyndham hotel, it could also serve the sports and entertainment complex. (No decision has been made on such a transit system. Its costs, financing and feasibility have not even been studied).

The truly troubling thing about Mr. Schmoke's remarks is that they underscore how he and his administration have abandoned what used to be a workable and systematic planning process. As the Inner Harbor East Wyndham hotel proposal shows, City Hall sees nothing wrong in discarding years' worth of planning in favor of uses that clash with existing height and density laws.

AlliedSignal has spent $80 million to clean up the Fells Point site from decades of chrome contamination. It has an approved 1993 planned unit development blueprint for the parcel, which once was seen as a possible site for a smaller auditorium or amphitheater. The existing plan, however, envisions office, retail and residential uses.

The Schmoke administration's helter-skelter approach to planning and development is alarming. A great city is not built that way.

Pub Date: 12/12/97

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