It's time to think outside the arena

January 13, 2008|By DAN RODRICKS

The city should build a new arena in downtown Baltimore - probably on the site of the present one - and it should be large enough to accommodate an NHL or NBA franchise, major concerts and conventions. The men and women looking into this should take a serum against small-think and never-think. Baltimore deserves an arena that serves a future of big possibilities.

I don't know if any member of the Baltimore Development Corp.'s arena advisory panel is under 35 years of age, but if not, it would be a good idea to add one or two who are - some young, future-minded, civic-minded sharpies who care about the emerging Baltimore.

For the most part, the panel appears to be populated by government officials who've been here, done that.

Still, even those of us who already got the T-shirt ought to be able to think outside a box that only seats 15,000. If we're going to go to the trouble and expense to build a new arena, then do it right - and do it big.

If Baltimore is to reach the next level as a convention destination, for instance, a spectacular new arena would be an important factor. Look at what's going on here. There are 6,847 hotel rooms in downtown, with 1,192 under construction. According to the Downtown Partnership, there are another 1,891 in the pipeline for the next four years. That's a possible total of 9,930 just in downtown.

That, by itself, doesn't get Baltimore in the running for a national political convention - Mob Town hasn't hosted once since the Democrats nominated New Jersey Gov. Woodrow Wilson here in 1912 - but, figuring on future hotel rooms and suburban hotels within 30 minutes of downtown, we could make a run for it.

A new arena with 18,000 to 20,000 seats would be a must.

Even if a presidential nominating convention is a stretch, there are many other meetings that demand the big space a new arena would provide, says Thomas J. Noonan, president and CEO of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. The arena issue is not just about sports, not just about concerts, not just about conventions. It's about all of it. Here's hoping the advisory committee takes the wide and long view instead of a narrow and short one.

Priceless politics

The Democratic side of the 2008 presidential primary season is quite interesting, but the Republican side is more entertaining. Have you seen these guys in debate? It's as if the producers of Scary Movie 4, Jeopardy and the Pat Robertson's 700 Club came up with this show.

There's the former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister, Mike Huckabee, warning Iranian sailors to prepare to face the Gates of Hell; the former actor and senator, Fred Thompson, all puffed up like a TV lawman, bundling Iranian sailors with al-Qaida terrorists - they're all jihadists, right? - and offering to introduce them "to those virgins that they're looking forward to seeing"; the shrinking Mitt "I Can't Believe I'm Losing To These Guys" Romney; the already shrunken Rudy "I Wanna Go To Miami" Giuliani; and Ron "I Didn't Write Those Racist Newsletters" Paul.

No wonder the 71-year-old John "Right About The Surge" McCain looks better all the time (even in South Carolina, where vicious rumors about his mental health, his wife and a black child out of wedlock contributed to defeat in the 2000 GOP primary.) The Palmetto primary is Saturday.

O'Malley flashback

I see the petulant, arrogant, sharp-tongued Martin O'Malley is back. He'd been AWOL for a little while, exhibiting a cautious approach and using relatively mild rhetoric during his first year in Annapolis. His slap last week at Nancy Grasmick was reminiscent of his first year as Baltimore mayor, when he shot from the lip at the judiciary and harshly criticized, for one, the city state's attorney, Patricia Jessamy. See a pattern here? Looks like petulance, vindictiveness and a problem with powerful women who don't get all gooey-eyed when he walks into the party.

Kicking her while she's up

O'Governor's timing isn't exactly impeccable: He decided to publicly slam Grasmick again and call for her ouster just as Education Week was ranking Maryland's schools No. 3 nationwide. A longtime state schools superintendent gets to take credit for that - not a first-term governor with only a limited track record of interest in public education.

But no flip-flops yet

For now, we still call it January thaw. In the future, if global warming continues at its current pace, January will probably be like spring or even summer, and what our old friend Larry Harris saw the other day will become a common sight: late Thursday morning in the 3000 block of E. Northern Parkway just off Harford Road, an elderly gentleman, wearing sunglasses, cheerily mowing his lawn.

Warm memories

During one January thaw 20-something years ago, I ended up in a small house owned by the elderly Lloyd Friend, one of the many Friends of Friendsville, in Western Maryland, where the terrain and scenery always remind me of New England. It was a warm, sunny day and Friendsville was in the midst of a big, muddy meltdown. I had just given the laconic Lloyd a ride home; he'd been hitchhiking on Route 42, dressed in galoshes, plaid coat and winter hat. "This is called January thaw," Lloyd declared, lighting up a pipe from a rocking chair by his Warm Morning stove. "Comes every January. Sometimes it lasts. Sometimes it don't." If Lloyd had added, "Ayup," and offered me chowder, I'd have thought I was in West Kennebunk. Instead, he spoke with a dash of West Virginia and, for the favor of a ride home, Lloyd insisted I take an old wooden coat stand. I drove back to Baltimore with it sticking out of my trunk.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

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