Schmoke requests $450,000 arena study Mayor seeks best site, show of economic worth

May 22, 1998|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is asking the City Council to approve a $450,000 study to examine potential sites and the economic benefits of building a newer, larger Baltimore Arena.

Schmoke has pinpointed possible sites for a 20,000-seat auditorium and is exploring whether he could raise private financial support to build it.

He also has toured Philadelphia's CoreStates Center and the MCI Center in Washington to see how development has fared around those arenas.

"I was very, very impressed, but there are still a lot of questions before a final decision can be made in Baltimore," Schmoke said yesterday.

Council members said yesterday they were not aware that the mayor had included the $450,000 in his proposed $1.8 billion city budget for fiscal year 1999.

After hearing of the plan, few embraced paying for the study. But many said that the city could benefit in the long run from a new arena if it spurs development, such as shops and restaurants nearby.

"It is something for us to certainly look into," said Northwest Baltimore Councilwoman Helen Holton. "Maybe it is something we want to cut from the budget. And maybe it isn't. But $450,000 will go a long way to paying for teachers or putting books in classrooms."

As Baltimore awaits the completion of the Ravens stadium, which is scheduled for mid-August, Schmoke is laying the groundwork for the arena.

He calls it "the next big project in Baltimore."

The mayor has requested proposals for the study. Responses are due in early July.

The study would look at factors including whether the city could draw a major league hockey or basketball team, city officials said.

"We need to take a look at the economics. What are the opportunities for the events, what kind of size should it be, how many skyboxes should we be assigning and how many could the city support?" said Charles C. Graves III, the city's planning director.

Preliminary proposals have suggested that the arena would cost about $220 million and probably would have to be financed largely through private investment, Schmoke said. "In this climate, it is unlikely we could do public financing," he said.

Early this year, the city chose 10 possible sites for the new arena, including Memorial Stadium and 1.75 acres between the Orioles and Ravens stadiums along Interstate 395.

Schmoke said yesterday that the preferred site is the existing arena's location at Lombard and Howard streets.

But Schmoke has said that if a new arena were to be built at that site, the city would be without an arena for close to two years. The city would lose revenue each year normally brought in by sporting events, concerts and family shows at the arena.

Schmoke has said that the 35-year-old, 11,200-seat Baltimore Arena needs to be replaced in part because it is too small to attract a pro basketball or hockey team.

He has said that he prefers a site that would be close to shops and restaurants so that arena patrons will spend money in the city and spur economic development.

Pub Date: 5/22/98

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