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Verizon Center Marks 10th Anniversary

The scene at Gallery Place, anchored by the 10-year-old Verizon Center, is dramatically different than when Abe Pollin was planning to build the arena.
The scene at Gallery Place, anchored by the 10-year-old Verizon Center, is dramatically different than when Abe Pollin was planning to build the arena. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)

Barry put consultant Bob Moore in charge of cutting through the bureaucracy. Along with Prince George's County lawyer Peter O'Malley, who represented Pollin, Moore bulled forward. On Dec. 2, 1997, the arena, then known as MCI Center, opened with the Wizards' 95-78 victory over the Seattle SuperSonics.

The development around the arena came slowly. Developer Douglas Jemal invested in offices and restaurants on the west side of Seventh Street, and builders Herb Miller and Chip Akridge brought in shops and condos on the east side.

Not everyone is completely thrilled with the feel of the place, however. Alexander Y. Chi, head of the Chinatown Revitalization Council, said he believes the Verizon Center deserves credit for making the area a regional attraction.

But Chi lamented the loss of some Chinese American-owned businesses that were replaced by chain stores and restaurants.

"The small businesses and the cultural attractions become diminished in the role they used to play," he said.

In the spring, Pollin persuaded the D.C. Council to give him $50 million in public funds -- raised by increasing the tax on tickets to the arena -- to refurbish the building. About $10 million has been spent on a new scoreboard and another $10 million to improve luxury suites, Pollin said, with additional upgrades on the way.

"I believe that it is the best building in the country," said Pollin, who will mark his 84th birthday tomorrow, "and I intend to keep it that way."


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