Report Suggests Larger Arena Would Benefit County

By Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 30, 2007

A mid-size sports and entertainment arena in Montgomery County could generate $2.4 million in revenue annually and would give residents a place to attend graduations, sporting events and other activities without having to leave the county, according to a preliminary report on the proposal's feasibility released yesterday.

The 46-page document, commissioned by the Maryland Stadium Authority and the Montgomery Department of Economic Development, said the county, home to about 1 million residents, could support an arena with fixed seating for 6,500 to 8,500, with a total capacity of up to 10,000. The report said such a venue could create 746 jobs.

The lack of such a site within county limits has been a sore point among the families of graduating seniors at several of Montgomery's largest high schools. Some have had to leave the county for graduations and have been forced to limit the number of family members who can attend because even venues outside the county, such as DAR Constitution Hall in the District and Show Place Arena in Prince George's County, seat fewer than 5,000.

Tom Doyle, owner of the Maryland Nighthawks, a men's professional basketball team in Montgomery, and an array of private investors formed a partnership last year to push for a new multipurpose arena. He could not be reached for comment on the report's findings, but in October, he said his goal was to create a public-private partnership to finance construction.

The report, by Towson University's Center for Applied Business and Economic Research and the Sage Policy Group, said that a Montgomery arena would have a competitive advantage over other venues because of its location. Nearby facilities outside the county can be a 25-mile drive for Montgomery residents.

The report's authors said they do not recommend a larger project because their research indicates that the size of an arena is not as important as its ability to host a variety of events. To that end, they suggested that the county consider incorporating a six-lane indoor track.

The report says that a new arena would be unlikely to pull business from either Strathmore or the Montgomery County Conference Center because those sites serve different audiences.

The authors do not recommend a specific location for the facility, but boosters of the project have suggested building the arena in the Upcounty area.

The report also does not suggest a specific plan for financing construction, though it notes that the county worked with the Maryland Stadium Authority to build the Montgomery County Conference Center in Bethesda.

Montgomery officials said yesterday that the report provided valuable information, but they cautioned that more study would be needed before any decision.

"There is a need, but can we do such a facility in such a way that it's going to pay for itself?" asked Patrick Lacefield, a spokesman for the county executive's office. "We're not going to have to take away from things we already do that are important.''

County Council member Mike Knapp (D), who represents the Upcounty area, said the study reinforced his belief that Montgomery needs such a venue.

"I think this is the continued metamorphosis of Montgomery County growing up,'' he said. "Residents should be legitimately upset that they have to leave the county for events."

However, council member George Leventhal (D-At Large) said he was not convinced that the county should take on another major building project so soon after investments in downtown Silver Spring and for the Strathmore.

"I'll read this study, but I'm not a proponent,'' he said.

Knapp said the preliminary report clears the way for further discussion.

"For a long time, this has been the next step,'' he said. Now that they have evidence that the project is feasible, he said, "hopefully, this will break that logjam of who needs to be talking to who.''

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