My colleague Dan Rodricks has made a persuasive case for replacing 1st Mariner Arena with a world-class facility - built to the highest "green" standards and capable of drawing professional sports teams and top-flight entertainment events.
He's talking about a civic jewel - the type of facility that would create a buzz about Baltimore all over the world. It's a great plan, but here comes an intriguing idea that might make it even better.
A group of local transit advocates has sent a letter to Mayor Sheila Dixon urging her to integrate a new arena with a second purpose that would keep it hopping 365 days a year.
A bus terminal.
Wait a minute. Hold the snickering. There's something to this.
What these folks are proposing is a Central Maryland Bus Station below the arena itself that would bring together regional commuter buses and Maryland Transit Administration bus routes at one central transit hub - with well-lit underground waiting areas protected from the elements.
The advocates behind this plan include Richard Chambers, executive director of One Less Car; Christopher T. Field, president of the Transit Riders Action Council; and Klaus Philipsen, who co-chairs the American Institute of Architects' Urban Design Committee.
It's a thoughtful proposal that deserves the attention of the Baltimore Development Corp. and city leaders. And there's nothing in their proposal that conflicts with the concept of a green arena.
"You can design anything green these days, and having transit is green in itself," said Philipsen.
The site of the current arena is already a transit hub of sorts - only not a very comfortable or convenient one. It's a place where many MTA bus routes now converge, but with outdoor stops that aren't terribly inviting.
The advocates note that the site is also adjacent to the light rail line and the Charles Center Metro station. And the building lies right along the route of the proposed Red Line.
A world-class arena could indeed bring scads of people downtown and contribute to a sense of urban vibrancy. But what downtown does not need is those people's cars. It's got enough, thank you.
Embedding a transit hub in the complex would encourage people to leave their vehicles at park-and-ride lots in the suburbs and attend evening events by bus or rail. The bays that commuter buses use by day could be leased to charter services by night and on weekends. Think coach trips to Ocean City, taking your car and others off the Bay Bridge.
The Metro subway - and perhaps someday an extended MARC system - could be tied in by building underground passageways. The Red Line could feed right into the terminal.
And after the arena events are over, the terminal could serve as the hub of what advocates call an "owl" bus system - providing a safe, warm place for the many service workers and medical personnel who work night shifts in Baltimore to make transfers.
Having a central terminal would also help visitors and new transit commuters navigate a confusing bus system. With a downtown hub, someone unfamiliar with the system could just take a bus to the central terminal and make connections to any point on the transit grid. The MTA could operate an information kiosk equipped with computers and staffed by a transit concierge.
Another reason the advocates are on to something is that the nature of bus travel is changing in the 21st century. Buses are cleaning up their act a lot faster than passenger cars. Modern hybrids have little in common with the dirty, noisy, fume-belching diesel models that gave buses a bad name.
My embellishment to the advocates' plan would be to restrict the use of the terminal to the "greenest" buses on the market. You don't want diesel fumes turning the air blue in a subterranean terminal. You don't want the noise of the old clunkers.
Maybe parts of this proposal are impractical, but the concept of integrating an entertainment venue and a transit hub is nothing new. Isn't that Madison Square Garden sitting atop New York's Penn Station?
The one thing that's certain is that it would be utter folly to proceed with such an important downtown project without the full participation of transit advocates and the MTA. It's too important an opportunity to squander.