Arena goes national, to be managed by SMG

Centre Management sells rights to group

April 21, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore Arena is under new management.

SMG, a private management company that oversees public facilities throughout the nation, has acquired the rights to operate the downtown Baltimore facility from Centre Management.

SMG, which is based in Philadelphia, did not disclose the terms of its agreement with the Washington-based former operator, a company owned by Abe Pollin. He is the owner of the NBA's Washington Wizards, the NHL's Washington Capitals and the WNBA's Washington Mystics.

The change from a regional to a national company has already brought smiles to the faces of key people associated with the Arena.

"We had no place to go but up," said Ed Hale, owner of the Blast indoor soccer team, the Arena's largest tenant.

"I'm speaking as a Baltimorean, not the Blast owner now," he said yesterday. "With Centre Management, we were third in line. We got whatever events were left over, the ones that couldn't be fit into MCI Center or USAirways Arena. It wasn't right."

Centre Management's parent company, Washington Sports & Entertainment, built the MCI Center in Washington and continues to own that venue and the Caps' former home, USAirArena in Landover. Pollin's company also manages the Patriot Center at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

Hale complained that the Arena had not been treated as a high priority. "They didn't care or seem to care about improving the facility," he said. "As of today, I've already had more conversations with SMG than I had in either of my two times as owner of the Blast."

A spokesman for Washington Sports & Entertainment, the parent company of Centre Management, last night defended the way the Arena has been managed.

"Centre Management always attempted to bring the very best entertainment to the Baltimore Arena," said the spokesman, Matt Williams. "We always felt that events could play both Baltimore and Washington with no problem, and we still feel that way. We wish the best to SMG in bringing entertainment to Baltimore in the future."

Negotiations were completed last week to shift the Baltimore Arena to SMG's oversight. Centre Management also operated the Cleveland State Convocation Center, which also came under the direction of SMG.

SMG's nearest facilities are in Richmond, Va., and Pittsburgh, and it doesn't own any sports teams in the area that would compete for fans and dollars.

Edie Brown, the arena's director of public and community relations, said she believes SMG is "going to be really good for the city and the Arena."

The Baltimore Arena, originally called the Civic Center, opened in 1962 and has been considered outdated for much of that time. Baltimore recently adopted a long-term plan to build a new arena. SMG, which has helped develop other new arenas, has expressed interest in being a partner in the project.

"The City of Baltimore welcomes its partnership with SMG and embraces this exciting growth opportunity," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said.

"I'm biased, I've done work for them in the past," said marketing consultant Bob Leffler of the Leffler Agency. "SMG brings a lot to the table. They're a national company, not regional. If we would be like one of 30 buildings for the Rolling Stones, that's great. They've got that kind of clout."

The company, formed in 1988, is now co-owned by Hyatt Hotels & Resorts and Aramark, the concessionaire that serves Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Pub Date: 4/21/99

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