Sports arena may be built downtown

Study supports tearing down, replacing 36-year-old complex

NBA team may be lured

Report says project could generate taxes of $10.1 million a year

April 14, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Downtown Baltimore could be the home of a third new sports complex should the city follow through on a study to be released today that recommends spending up to $200 million to build a replacement for Baltimore Arena.

The 36-year-old arena at Lombard and Howard streets is the oldest such facility in the country's 40 top sports markets, the study found. Consultants hired by the city say replacing the venue, which was formerly known as the Civic Center, could lure a National Basketball Association or National Hockey League team to Baltimore. Discussions are under way with several basketball teams interested in moving, city officials said.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke requested the arena study last year and will release its findings at a news conference today in the city planning department. Anticipating opposition to the plan, city officials stressed yesterday that current city tax dollars would not be used to build the arena, which they view as a catalyst to reviving downtown's west side.

FOR THE RECORD - Because of incorrect information provided by the City of Baltimore, an article that appeared in the local section of The Sun misstated a consultant's estimate of how many jobs would be created by a new arena and NBA team in Baltimore. PriceWaterHouseCoopers estimates a net gain of 1,320 jobs in the metro area, said David Frey, managing consultant for the firm's sports, convention and leisure industry. Baltimore's planning department had put job gains at 4,480 in written material, based on an inaccurate interpretation of the study. The Sun regrets the error.

"Anybody who has been at the arena and sat in the chairs and noticed the poor sightlines really understands that we really need a new building," city Planning Director Charles Graves III said. Baltimore approved spending $208,000 last year for the arena study, which was conducted by Goal Group, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Vanguard Management Group and C. E. Pugh & Co. Graves said the city has dedicated another $150,000 to further explore the arena plan.

The study recommends tearing down the current 11,200-seat arena and offers three options: building a 19,000-seat arena, a 17,000-seat facility or a 12,000-seat site that could be expanded. The key to which scenario the city adopts will depend on whether Baltimore can recruit an NBA or NHL team.

Similar to other cities, the new arena would be operated by the team and could bring in up to $3.8 million a year in city taxes and $6.3 million in state taxes for $10.1 million, according to the study.

Among the sources that could be tapped to build the arena are city hotel, sales, admission and parking taxes with state lottery proceeds, state grants and the formation of a regional asset district. Pittsburgh, Denver and Indianapolis have created such districts, which allow for surrounding counties to help pay to build the facility.

Another option would be to dedicate city taxes generated by the complex to pay for it, consultants suggest.

Hopes for building an arena in Baltimore have been spurred by several developments, including the success of Washington's MCI Center. Washington and Baltimore also are bidding to hold the 2012 Summer Olympics.

The project would dovetail with the $350 million plan to renovate downtown's west side. The arena sits within the 18-block area targeted for the west-side redevelopment.

The arena would be the third sports complex built in Baltimore since 1992. The $223 million PSINet Stadium, financed with state lottery proceeds, opened last year for the Baltimore Ravens. The $106.5 million Oriole Park at Camden Yards, considered one of the nation's premier baseball stadiums, opened in 1992.

`When will it end?'

Throughout the country, taxpayers are increasingly criticizing stadium projects, noting that millions in public money are being spent to build facilities that benefit private sports team owners. The sentiment has been acute in Baltimore, which continues to suffer violent crime, the highest tax rate in Maryland, 8 percent unemployment and woeful schools.

"Another stadium?" said the Rev. Douglas Miles, leader of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, a group of 200 city church pastors. "When will it end, this siphoning off of resources to build a playground for the rich and powerful to the detriment of the neighborhoods and poor people?"

Len Perna of Goal Group Consulting, the Clifton, Va., company that spearheaded the arena study, said the new arena could add up to 4,000 jobs and more than $100 million in annual earnings for the city. The Baltimore area is the second-largest metropolitan region in the nation without a professional basketball or NHL team, Perna said.

`Economic generator'

Downtown Partnership President Laurie B. Schwartz said yesterday, "A new arena would be a real positive economic generator for downtown. Particularly if Baltimore is successful in attracting a new professional team."

Perna, who said he helped lure the Minnesota North Stars hockey team to Dallas, believes Baltimore is ripe for a new basketball team. Perna said his company has had discussions with several teams interested in possibly moving to Baltimore. Perna would not disclose the teams.

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