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  Fairfax Woos Owner of Bullets, Caps

By Robert O'Harrow Jr. and Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 24, 1994; Page B01

The Washington Bullets and Capitals would move to a new arena in a massive development south of Springfield under a proposal that Fairfax County officials have made to the teams' owner, county sources said yesterday.

The county's overture to Abe Pollin, the owner of the basketball and hockey teams, comes as Pollin is considering a move out of USAir Arena, the 20-year-old, 18,000-seat facility in Largo.

The arena, which Pollin owns, lacks moneymaking luxury skyboxes, access to public transportation and many other amenities common in modern arenas, and in recent weeks Pollin has talked with Maryland and District officials about building a more modern facility.

Fairfax officials, who already are trying to attract a major league baseball team, believe their chances of luring Pollin's teams are slim, county sources said yesterday. But officials have been encouraged recently because Pollin's associates have kept in contact, focusing on a site that now is part of the Army's Engineer Proving Ground, just south of the Fairfax County Parkway and west of Interstate 95.

"There's been some nosing around" about building an arena in Fairfax, one county source said.

Pollin's representatives and Fairfax officials declined to say whether they had discussed an arena. Virginia Gov. George Allen acknowledged that Fairfax officials had approached him about investing state money in an arena project that likely would cost about $100 million.

"We just have to look at it," Allen said. "It's all very preliminary at this stage."

Allen said he would be willing to put state money into an arena if it "makes economic sense," but would not discuss any figures or details. "It'd be mostly local involvement, but if there is any state involvement, we'd have to look at the economic benefits that the state would derive from it," said Allen, who declined to say whether he had talked with Pollin or anyone from his organization.

The Fort Belvoir Engineer Proving Ground, a wooded tract of more than 800 acres, is the site of a proposed office, retail and residential development that county planners say would compare with Crystal City. The Army, which has been told by Congress to cash in such assets, is proposing to have developers build it an office complex there in exchange for allowing them to build on the rest of the land.

The Army envisions a project that eventually would have 30,000 workers, 4,000 residences and a light-rail system that would connect the site to downtown Springfield and the Franconia-Springfield Metro station, which is scheduled to open just east of I-95 in 1997.

Fairfax Supervisor Joseph Alexander (D-Lee), whose district includes the Army site, said he has not been involved in discussions about an arena. But, he said, "I'd certainly be interested in talking."

Other local governments have made it equally clear that they covet the potential benefits of being home to the Bullets and Capitals.

With support from Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Prince George's County earlier this month set up a public task force to look into how it can finance a new arena to keep Pollin's teams there.

Meanwhile, private business people, civic activists and government leaders from the District have quietly laid the groundwork for a new arena to be built downtown. It would be financed with revenue from luxury skyboxes, according to Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly's administration.

Lawyer John P. Davey, point man for Prince George's County's efforts to get the teams, said he was not surprised that Fairfax is trying to attract the Capitals and Bullets.

"This is just one more indication that if Prince George's County wants to maintain the Bullets and the Caps, we are going to have to be just as aggressive as any other jurisdiction," Davey said.

Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke also has approached Pollin about taking the teams to Laurel and creating a sports complex that would include a football stadium, a multipurpose arena and the existing Laurel Race Course.

In December, Pollin hired a consultant to study the feasibility of moving his sports teams into a new arena. Pollin also is considering a major renovation of USAir Arena.

Pollin's attorneys have told Maryland lawmakers and others that the sports entrepreneur, who turned 70 at the end of last year, does not want to pay for the new arena out of his own pocket.

Pollin used his own fortune to start Capital Centre, which was renamed USAir Arena last year. The building now is considered a relic because its luxury suites are too far from the action, its concession areas tend to get clogged and there is no club seating, according to Pollin's organization.

Club-level seats, executive suites and food courts are the major sources of revenue for current sports team owners, and Pollin wants an arena that would allow him to capitalize on that.

He also would like a new arena to be on a rail line. Attendance at USAir Arena is hindered by a lack of access to public transportation, Pollin has said.

Schaefer said in a statement released through his press office that the Virginia overture, if serious, is "a cause for concern."

Schaefer said the state's preoccupation with getting a National Football League franchise in Baltimore should not "make us lose sight of Abe Pollin and keeping him in Maryland."

Staff writer Peter Baker contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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