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  MCI Center, Metro Station Stage Debut for Two

Claude Mayberry and Carolyn Trice check out the new MCI Center
Claude Mayberry and Carolyn Trice check out their seats at the new MCI Center.
By Dudley M. Brooks/The Post

By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, Nov. 17, 1997; Page B1

After four years and $200 million worth of planning and construction, thousands of sports fans got their first chance yesterday to sample the sightlines, sound system, seating arrangement and hot dogs at the new downtown sports arena during preview tours.

They investigated the MCI Center's restrooms and pronounced them excellent. They tested the seats and found them comfortable and roomy for ample bottoms, though the legroom could be snug for someone on the high side of six feet.

"I wanted to come down and see what the arena is like, see if it lives up to all the hype," said Arthur Goggins, 50, from Northeast Washington, who brought his 8-year-old son, Craig. "I think it does."

Next door, Metro cut the ribbon on the new exit for the Gallery Place-Chinatown station. The top of the escalators at Seventh and F streets NW is 75 paces from the arena's main entrance on F Street, and the station has been expanded to handle the surge of thousands of people leaving games.

"We drove, but once we got here and took a look at parking, we're definitely going to take Metro in," said Jon Stancik, 35, of Loudoun County, who brought his 8-year-old son, Michael. The twin events yesterday are part of the city's rising anticipation of the arena's Dec. 2 opening. The home of Abe Pollin's Wizards basketball team and Capitals hockey team will replace the US Airways Arena in Landover.

With at least 200 events including concerts, circuses and ice skating pageants scheduled at the 20,600-seat arena each year, city leaders hope the building will lead the revitalization of downtown.

Other Washington institutions are taking part in welcoming the glitzy new neighbor.

The National Museum of American Art, across Seventh Street from the arena, is mounting an exhibit called "Time Out! Sports in Art," a display of painting, sculpture and photography scheduled to open Friday and run through April 5.

Through Dec. 2, the merchants and restaurateurs of Chinatown are offering a 10 percent discount on single items to patrons who show a Metro ticket.

For many city residents, the new arena is a source of pride.

"To me, it's a big thing, bringing it right downtown," said Goggins, an airline supervisor who lives in the Fort Totten neighborhood of Northeast Washington. "Being able to afford it is another story." He said that he would only be able to come to a few Wizards games and that he would sit in the "cheap seats" for $19.

A friend with season tickets gave Goggins his invitation to the preview. The 30,000 people invited to tour the arena yesterday included season ticket holders, club seat owners, luxury suite renters, assorted VIPs, several local youth sports teams and employees with Metro and the various companies and contractors that helped build the big tan sports palace.

Columnist George Will, who said he holds Wizards and Capitals season tickets, checked out the view from his hockey seat. "It's really good," he said. "There aren't going to be many bad seats."

At the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro station, proud engineers gave tours of their handiwork. For $19 million paid with federal money granted to the District and Metro funds the exit that used to be at Seventh and G streets was relocated to Seventh and F. The construction was done by Clark Construction Group Inc. and Sherman R. Smoot Corp., the firms that also built the arena.

Three escalators and two elevators were added, and the number of fare gates at that end of the station was increased from four to 17. About 1,400 people a day used the old exit, while the new one is designed to handle up to 10,000 in a half-hour, said Kenneth B. Spain, Metro's engineer on the project.

The station features bright lighting to present a safe and friendly atmosphere, and it has elegant concrete columns, flared out at the top to support the bleachers and playing floor directly above.

Pollin said he expects as many as half the people attending arena events, or just over 10,000, will travel by Metro.

Richard A. White, Metro's general manager, advised people to consider using other stations a short walk from the arena, such as Judiciary Square (on the Red Line), Metro Center (Red, Orange and Blue lines) and Archives Navy Memorial (Yellow and Green lines). Gallery Place is on the Red, Yellow and Green lines.

Trains will leave Gallery Place as often as every 45 seconds after games, in an effort to clear the crowds in 30 minutes, White said. Metro will extend hours to accommodate overtime games or late events.

After games, Metro will also offer Blue Line "shortcuts" on the Yellow Line to Virginia from Gallery Place, as well as a Green Line shortcut on the Red Line to Maryland.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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