Dated arena impedes west-side revival/

SATURDAY MAILBOX

February 08, 2003

I strongly encourage the City Council to vote no on the proposal to wallpaper the 1st Mariner Arena with giant billboards ("Billboards on arena to net city very little," Jan. 28). The city has a moratorium on billboards, which the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) strongly supports. It is hard to understand why an exception should be made in this case.

The question should not be about plastering this building with signage, but about why the arena continues to exist at all.

The arena is a building whose time has passed. It is too old and small a venue for events to be profitable. In Scott Calvert's Jan. 28 article, Baltimore Blast owner Edwin F. Hale Sr. admits the ad revenue will only offset his team's losses.

So why does the city continue to prop up this arena in a location where no one seems to be able to make a go of it? And is the best solution to cover an "outmoded and unattractive" building with giant billboards?

This certainly will not enhance the quality of life on Howard or Baltimore streets. And now that we know there will be little financial gain to the city, it seems like a lose-lose deal.

Why not instead take advantage of the momentum of west-side redevelopment? The arena site would be more valuable to the city if the building were demolished and the blocks returned to their original configuration.

The city should allow Redwood Street to pass through again and connect the University of Maryland, Baltimore back to Hopkins Plaza and the central business district, as has been advocated by the AIA and every one of the planning initiatives for this area.

The arena area is now a giant, lifeless interruption in the city that isolates the University of Maryland and Charles Center. If the building were razed and the connection between downtown and the west side re-established, developers would line up to build housing, retail or, God help us, more parking, in the corridor between these two magnets. The demand in this area has been well-established through economic studies sponsored by the Baltimore Development Corp. and the Downtown Partnership, among other groups.

The right solution is to build a new, state-of-the-art arena where it is a better fit and can be profitable. The area south of Ravens Stadium adjacent to the Middle Branch waterfront would be perfect.

A new arena there would be the final piece in a sports complex that would stretch from Pratt Street to the waterfront. It could help create a second waterfront, opening up possibilities for development similar to those in Fells Point and Canton.

This strategy has been advocated by the AIA for many years and was received positively by the Maryland Stadium Authority.

Of course, the city is not financially prepared to move forward with a plan like this in the near future.

But it is not a good plan to plaster a failure with an eyesore so the tenants of the arena lose money less rapidly. Let's stop throwing good money after bad and come up with a better plan.

James Determan

Gordon Ingerson Baltimore

The writers are, respectively, the treasurer and president-elect of AIA's Baltimore chapter.

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