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  Teams May Move, but Glendening's Quiet

By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 27, 1994; Page B01

Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening, who has aggressively courted business throughout his term, has been uncharacteristically quiet in recent days over the possible loss of the county's two most celebrated commercial enterprises: the Washington Bullets and the Washington Capitals.

Lieutenants of the teams' principal owner, Abe Pollin, say that the 70-year-old sports mogul is looking for a new home for his professional basketball and hockey teams. They regard the USAir Arena, of which Pollin is majority owner, as an aging facility that is not on a par with arenas that have opened in other jurisdictions recently. Pollin also has indicated that he won't pay for a new facility himself, as Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke is contemplating in Laurel.

Although Glendening wants the teams to stay in Landover — the 20-year-old arena is one of the most widely recognized attractions in Prince George's County — his administration has not greeted Pollin with the protests and promises of assistance that are a traditional response to relocation threats by sports entrepreneurs.

Pollin's advisers have privately floated the notion of turning the arena into a convention center. But Glendening said county officials have not begun to think seriously about what to do with the facility should the Bullets and Capitals leave.

Glendening said he hasn't even sat down with Pollin to determine what the owner wants from government officials. "He indicated that wasn't necessary yet," Glendening said. "They are still at the stage of reviewing a variety of options."

Glendening made it clear in an interview that the county can't afford to build an arena, which could cost close to $100 million, but might consider permitting tax-exempt financing or paying for transportation improvements. He said the state should consider financing a new arena, just as it financed a new baseball stadium for the Baltimore Orioles.

But, he added, "I'm not one of those people who go out and believe that your entire future is based on a bidding war for a sports facility. On occasions, some of these things reach near-hysteria that doesn't make sense in terms of public policy.

"My feeling is that {the teams} are an asset, and we should do what we can," Glendening said. "But when I think of the serious public policy issues, it's just one of many things on the plate."

At first glance, Glendening's low profile may seem surprising because the arena has helped boost the county's backwater image. The county also derives about $2.5 million annually in taxes from the arena, according to Tim Ayers, Glendening's press secretary.

But Glendening has reasons for being cautious, according to his advisers and politicians in the county. Many politicos say they believe that one reason Gerard McDonough, the former council chairman, lost his council seat in 1982 was his support for a tax break for the Capitals.

Part of Glendening's stance also may have to do with the feeling on the part of some county officials that Pollin is not likely to find a new home for the Bullets and Capitals as easily or as inexpensively as he might hope. Under that line of thinking, one official said, it makes no sense to raise a ruckus.

In addition, as Glendening embarks on his campaign for the Democratic nomination for Maryland governor, he increasingly has realized the need to adopt a broader, statewide vision.

And in this case, what's bad for Prince George's County may not be so bad for Anne Arundel County or Baltimore, both of which have been mentioned as possible homes for Pollin's teams.

"In past years, when we looked at how things might impact Parris, we only looked at Prince George's," said Del. Pauline H. Menes (D), who heads the county's delegation in Annapolis. "Now we have to look statewide. This could help in another part of the state."

Other county politicians said losing the Bullets and the Capitals would not necessarily hurt Glendening politically in the same way that the likely loss of the Redskins has damaged D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly.

"Most people would understand that it is outside his control," said Prince George's County Council Chairman F. Kirwan Wineland (D). "The difference is that keeping the Redskins was completely under the control of the D.C. Council and the mayor, and the bureaucracy just fumbled it. I'm not sure that there is that much of an opportunity for us to keep them."

Also, with less than a year left in Glendening's term, the Pollin situation may be an issue that falls to his successor as county executive. Three of the major contenders for the Democratic nomination — council member Richard J. Castaldi, lawyer Wayne K. Curry and state Sen. Beatrice P. Tignor — said that they regard keeping the teams as a priority for the county and that they would be willing to consider some kind of financial inducement for Pollin.

The exception is council member Sue V. Mills (D). Mills was harshly critical a decade ago when the council granted Pollin a tax break to keep the Capitals in Landover.

"My God, we've handed everything to him on a silver platter," she said. "Now he's throwing another temper tantrum. . . . I'm certainly not willing to pledge any further tax dollars to Mr. Pollin."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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