A downtown arena

Our view : A new design, realistic expectations should be the focus

July 07, 2008

Frank Remesch, general manager of 1st Mariner Arena, has shown that big isn't necessarily better, and mid-size can be profitable. It's something members of a Baltimore Development Corp. team should keep in mind as they choose a location for a new Baltimore arena. A slightly enlarged facility with a snappy design should be the priority - not building a greatly expanded complex with the intention of wooing a professional sports team to Baltimore. The outdated, city-owned arena has hosted marquee acts in recent years and reaped the benefits. It has found its niche as family-oriented fun, and profitably so. Outsized ambition may ruin a good thing.

As reported by The Sun's Lorraine Mirabella, the boxy, unattractive, 14,000-seat arena will have its most profitable year in its 46-year history, and net income has risen each of the last three years; that's much improved from past performance. Hannah Montana's Miley Cyrus and the Rolling Stones played to sold-out crowds there. .

The danger in going bigger is empty seats and lost revenues. If the size of the arena suits Mary J. Blige as well as Disney on Ice, why mess with a winning formula? The arena should remain where it is but in swankier quarters. From there, it's walkable to other downtown locales (Camden Yards, the convention center and Harborplace) and offers easy access to mass transit. A rebuilt arena at its current location would link the newly built west-side housing and office developments to the restaurants and waterfront attractions of the Inner Harbor, and perhaps finally give this once-neglected side of town continuity and a sense of identity along with some heft and swagger.

Once the location is chosen, the city will seek requests for proposals from developers and potential operators. The critical element will be financing. A developer shouldn't expect large investments from the city or the state - not in this economic climate. Some help might be in the city's interest, but only with a solid base of financing from the developer.

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