Pollin's Efforts Praised by D.C. Fans
By Athelia Knight
Nina Spicer, owner of the Arena Cafe at 6th and G streets, sat at a counter next to the window in her restaurant yesterday, pointed her finger at MCI Center across the street and reflected on Abe Pollin's sleek, 15-month-old building.
"Without Mr. Pollin and the MCI Center, this area would never have been revitalized," said Spicer, a 57-year-old native Washingtonian. "What he has done for Washington probably no one has done in many years. He brought our home teams back to the city."
For that reason, Spicer said she was surprised by Pollin's announcement yesterday that he is selling the Washington Capitals and minority interests in the Wizards and MCI Center to America Online executive Ted Leonsis. She, like many others, praised Pollin for what he has done for the community.
MCI Center's opening in December 1997 helped trigger a real estate boom in downtown Washington, with a host of restaurants and other businesses cropping up around the arena.
Other Washington residents yesterday said they were not concerned so much about who owns the Capitals and Wizards as they are about building them into winning teams.
"I think the MCI Center is a great addition to downtown," said John Stern, 39, a lawyer from Northwest Washington. "Obviously, having a winning franchise is key. The Wizards haven't been able to manage that for a long time. I think most fans probably don't care all that much about management or ownership changes, but rather having management and ownership that is committed to winning and spending the money required to field a decent team."
This season, both teams missed the playoffs for the first time since 1980-81. The Wizards were 18-32 in the regular season, which was shortened because of a six-month labor dispute between players and team owners. After advancing to the Stanley Cup finals last year, the Capitals finished 31-45-6 this season.
"We were disappointed the way the teams did" this season, Spicer said. She remembered how the neighborhood "was rocking" last season when the Capitals won the Eastern Conference finals and made it to the Stanley Cup finals, where they were swept in four games by the Detroit Red Wings.
"Because of the lockout [and] the Caps not as active as they were last year, it was a quiet year down here," she said.
Spicer said she is confident that Pollin's decision to sell the Capitals and minority interests in the Wizards and MCI Center is "in the best interest of everybody involved. . . . He's a superb businessman and a builder of this city."
Lawyer Bert Merwin recalled seeing Pollin outside the arena when it opened in December 1997. "I remember when he first put it up. He was walking around and picking up trash. It was his baby. He was very proud of the institution."
But Merwin said he realizes that sports team ownership is a business.
"Even though it's such a marvelous edifice, to keep a thing like that going is very expensive," he said.
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