The Arena Issue, Part I

July 16, 2008 |

Here is the easiest answer to a question you will ever get.  Yes, we need to build a new arena in Baltimore. The current First Mariner Arena was useless the day it was built.   What size and where?  Good questions.  What are those answers? 
Before we tackle these two issues, a quick commentary. Wherever they build this arena and by whom, they need to make sure that the arts and society people, who ruined the last building by putting a stage in it, have absolutely nothing to do with this venue.  They shouldn’t be allowed to have any roll in this selection or even be within 10 miles of any planning meetings.  
They conspired and pressed the City into building one of the worst arenas in history.  How else do explain a building that was built to lure an NHL franchise, yet if you where sitting behind the goal on the non-stage side, you could not see the net?  Whoever was responsible for this civic disgrace should have been charged with a criminal act.  Trust me on this, I spent six years of my life in that building.  It’s a shame the fraud that was perpetrated on this city by these people.
I have been to arenas in Detroit, St. Louis, Cleveland, Washington, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, College Park, Hershey, Harrisburg, Kansas City and Dallas.  In both old and new arenas, nothing comes close to being as bad as the tragedy this city built in 1962.  
Thanks for nothing goofs.  Great arena you built last time.  Go to Starbucks and get yourself a double cream latte for $4.50 and chat about some Beethoven concert or some stupid painting by Picasso.  Only people with sports and arena facility management backgrounds should be allowed to influence decisions on the type of arena we build.   
First, the size:  Let’s face facts.  We are never going to get an NBA or NHL team in Baltimore without an act of God.  It’s simple; neither Philadelphia nor Washington, DC wants to see a team within its territory in either the NBA or NHL.  The Leagues would see no sense in splitting the DC market, which already has Caps and Wizards games televised in Baltimore.   Remember Howard, Anne Arundel, and Frederick Counties are basically right in the middle of the two markets.  Even a 10% loss in attendance would hurt either franchise.  The only way we get a team in either league is if something tragic would happen to either city’s venue, and a team wouldn’t be allow to play in its home arena for years.
So the size is simple: 15-16,000 fans with about 25-30 sky boxes.  That’s big enough for some very good concerts, UFC or WWE shows, family shows, possibly first round NCAA tournament games, and for high level secondary leagues (like the real Arena Football League or the WNBA) or minor leagues like the American Hockey League.   The size would also be good for the only real current sports occupant, the Blast.
Now the where:  Mayor Dixon recently was quoted as saying the current location on Howard and Baltimore streets would be the best.  That’s hard to argue.  That site has excellent mass transit appeal with proximity to both the subway and light rail.  It’s close to hotels, the harbor and parking venues.  The site unfortunately comes with several questions as well.   In the two years it takes to build an arena, what happens to the Blast?  What about the lost revenue from the shows and concerts?  Plus the land the current arena sits on is very valuable land; the selling of that land could fetch a great deal of money to be used to finance the building of the new arena. 
As I see it there are two other good options— Camden Yards Sports Complex or Canton.  Camden Yards’ advantage is it would create a Meadowlands like sports complex; it’s a location people are very familiar with, is accessible by light rail and MARC train, and is right off interstate 95 and 295.   Nearby Federal Hill offers great dining, and on nights when the O’s or Ravens aren’t in, there would be plenty of parking.   
Canton would have the leadership of Blast owner Ed Hale, who has done everything in his power to keep the aging First Mariner Arena going.  Hale’s leadership would be a huge plus with a new building.  Canton is close to 95; however it lacks public mass transit like light rail.    
As much I value Mr. Hale’s leadership, I think Camden Yards would be the best place because of the light rail and MARC component; plus it is still close enough to Downtown for the hotels and restaurants.  It would also mean no disruption for the Blast or the other arena events.  Ed Hale should play a part wherever the building is. 
Would you like to see the Arena built?  Where?  Give me your thoughts?