City Needs to Rethink Arena Plans

April 16, 2009 |

In a blog I posted yesterday, I talked about some of the plans for a new arena in Baltimore.  It’s clear that the city and state officials involved in the planning process have not thought this entire thing through.

It’s great that they want to build a new venue but, they only have one chance to get it right.  There are many things that need to be considered, that I don’t believe officials have even thought about.  There are plans in the works to demolish 1st Mariner Arena and build a shiny new 18,500 seat arena in its place.

They got half of it right, the new arena does need to be large enough to house a NBA or NHL team.  There’s no point in spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a 15,000 seat building, so we can permanately exclude ourselves from the conversation for an NBA team.  Some question the cities ability to even interest an NBA or NHL franchise, but the Baltimore Metro area continues to grow and there has been interest in the past.  It was reported in a Examiner article by Michael Olesker that officials for both the New Jersey Nets and Houston Rockets had contacted Ed Hale about the possibility of relocating to Baltimore when Martin O’Malley was mayor.

Plenty of teams could be looking to relocate in the near future.  The New Orleans Hornets, Sacramento Kings, and Memphis Grizzlies are all possibilities with their less than desirable situations.  If Oklahoma City can support an NBA team, Baltimore surely can.

There are several other cities that are comparable to Baltimore that house three professional sports teams;  Pittsburgh, Denver, and Cleveland immediately come to mind.  Here’s how we stack up with those cities as far as market size.  A recent study from MediaInfoCenter.org showed that Baltimore ranks higher in population than all three of those 3 sport cities.  This evidence should silence some of the critics who say Baltimore could not support an NBA team.

Now, let’s get to the part officials have dead wrong.  As stated above the plan is to build a new arena where 1st Mariner currently stands.  There is no logic to this plan when there are at least two better options.  The only reason this location was chosen is so the new Arena could be the focal point of the west side revitalization project.

OK I guess I can buy into that, but here’s what building the Arena where the current building is will cost us.

For the very minimum of three to four years, the following events will not be taking place in Baltimore; WWE, Baltimore Blast, Baltimore Mariners, Ringling Brothers, Motorcross, Monster Jam, Disney on Ice, Comedy Shows, Concerts, and the many other events held at the building.  What happens to all of the employees that work at 1st Mariner Arena?  Also, every year at least 800,000 people visit 1st Mariner Arena pumping millions and millions of dollars into the cities economy.  These guests go to the restaurants downtown, the shops in the harbor, and fill the downtown parking garages when their not full of 9-5 commuters.  In this economy, can the city really afford to be without a premier entertainment destination?

As I said yesterday, the new arena should be located either south of M&T Bank Stadium where development is already planned or in Canton off of I95 and Boston Street.  Both of these locations are fully capable of handling increased traffic volumes during show or game days.  Most importantly, building in these locations would allow the city to continue to enjoy all of the fine events at 1st Mariner Arena until the new arena is complete.

It should also be noted that Baltimore Blast owner Ed Hale reportedly told the Baltimore Sun last summer that he would look into all of his options including a lawsuit if he is severely damaged by the city’s plan.  Building in the place of the current arena would more than likely force the Blast out of business.  The last thing the city needs is to be tied up in litigation with its most prominant business man.  Hopefully, the lack of news about the proposals is because they are trying to work out a new location.

To the best of my knowledge there have not been any contracts yet signed to build in the place of the current arena.  Here’s to hoping the city reconsiders their plan.  A lot of people look forward to all the events at 1st Mariner Arena.  There’s no reason to have them spend their money in Washington, Philadelpia, or Hershey to see a show while we wait for the new arena to be finished.

Nothing is set in stone until the contracts are signed.  The new arena needs to be big enough to hold an NBA team but, I really hope the elected officials of Baltimore and the State of Maryland for that matter wouldn’t go through with a plan this dumb.

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