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  MCI Name To Go On New Facility

By Maryann Haggerty and Michael Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, June 3, 1995; Page A01

Sports team owner Abe Pollin's new downtown arena will be named after MCI Communications Corp., a source familiar with the deal said yesterday.

Pollin is expected to announce the name and the financing package for the arena next week. In addition to MCI, the largest company based in the District, money to build the arena will come from NationsBank Corp., the region's dominant banking company, according to the source.

Many new sports facilities built in recent years, as well as a number of older venues, carry corporate names. Two years ago Pollin changed the name of the Capital Centre, the arena he owns in Landover, to USAir Arena because the Arlington-based airline agreed to pay a reported $1 million a year.

The money that companies pay for the right to name these well-known buildings is a key part of financing the expensive projects, along with the marketing of luxury executive suites and other premium seats. Sources said MCI is likely to move beyond the standard naming-rights contract and provide a portion of the debt or equity that will finance the new arena, but did not provide further details on the amount of the deal.

An MCI spokeswoman said she could neither confirm nor deny her company's involvement in the project.

Pollin did not return telephone calls yesterday seeking comment, and NationsBank could not be reached either.

The 20,000-plus-seat arena atop the Gallery Place Metro stop at Sixth, Seventh, F and G streets NW is planned as the new home for the two professional sports teams Pollin owns, the National Basketball Association's Bullets and the National Hockey League's Capitals.

NationsBank, which has been active in providing financing for sports teams and facilities in its hometown of Charlotte, also has a long-term relationship with Pollin and the arena project. It holds the mortgage on USAir Arena and is leading a consortium of banks that have agreed to lend the District the estimated $53 million it needs for its part of the proposed arena.

Last year, Pollin said he would pay for the construction of the arena, which is projected to cost at least $180 million. The District agreed to provide the land at Gallery Place and to make some improvements to infrastructure in the neighborhood.

The financing deal marks a major milestone for the arena project, but other issues remain unresolved. Among them are the eventual cost to the city of buying two parcels needed to complete the Gallery Place arena site.

Recently, the city received draft appraisals for the properties it needs for the arena site. Those appraisals, which are confidential, are being reviewed by city officials and the consortium of banks that has agreed to finance the city's site preparation costs.

"All I can say is that the appraisals are okay," said Robert L. Moore, the city's chief negotiator on the arena project. "We'll see what happens after the reviews."

The lending consortium is demanding significant control over a new gross receipts tax on businesses earmarked for paying off the city's arena loan. The banks want the city to increase the arena tax rate if revenue falls below the $9 million a year needed to pay off the loan. The banks also want the city to require their approval before it could repeal the tax.

Questions also remain about the arena's design. Many merchants and activists in adjacent Chinatown want the arena to have a major entrance facing their community. The entrance, they said, will help ensure that Chinatown reaps some spillover business from the new arena.

But a major entrance facing Chinatown is almost certain not to be part of the final design. Instead, Moore said, the city wants to work with Chinatown merchants to build new sidewalks and new facades for Chinatown's businesses.

"The thing that will matter is if we make the streets in Chinatown as festive, inviting and safe-feeling as possible," Moore said. "Then, I think the businesses there will be in a position to benefit from the arena's presence."

In addition to those issues, the arena site is still undergoing environmental, historic preservation and fine arts reviews. There are decisions to be made about Metro access to the site, and Congress has yet to act on legislation that would allow the District to set the arena tax revenue apart from other city tax money.

Nonetheless, Pollin and city officials have said they are confident that the project will break ground this year and be in operation by the fall of 1997.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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