Pro basketball in Baltimore

New arena: It's time to consider building a facility that could boost downtown business activity.

January 12, 2002

THE ECONOMIC and social boom around Washington's MCI Center these days give a compelling reason for building a state-of-the-art basketball arena in downtown Baltimore.

In Washington, the NBA Wizards are thrilling fans - and not only because of Michael Jordan's theatrics. The Wizards and the National Hockey League's Capitals are invigorating business in the city's Chinatown largely because of their modern arena.

The 20,000-seat MCI Center is a big attraction in itself, like Camden Yards has been for Baltimore. MCI pays off 41 times a year for home basketball games and 41 times for hockey. And that's not to mention the Women's National Basketball Association team, the Mystics, which has boasted high attendance even with a losing record.

Parking lots and restaurants fill up before basketball and hockey games, doing brisk business.

That can't happen in Baltimore because its basketball arena is so outdated that the team formerly known as the Baltimore Bullets doesn't even consider coming here for a few games a season anymore.

A new arena could make Baltimore the basketball city it was in the days of Earl "The Pearl" Monroe. Or better.

Three years ago, the city discussed building an arena to attract an NBA team. Sites were considered, including the current Baltimore Arena's location, an area just north of the arena and a spot near Camden Yards. These talks fizzled.

It's time to start those discussions again. Baltimore has proved it's a major league city with its solid support of the Orioles and the Super Bowl champion Ravens. Mayor Martin O'Malley and the Maryland Stadium Authority should raise the city's profile another notch by seriously planning to build a new arena that could give downtown businesses a payoff night after night.

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