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  Schaefer Says Md. Will Help Build Arena

By Richard Tapscott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 11, 1994; Page A01

ANNAPOLIS, FEB. 10 — Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer, moving to counter overtures from leaders of the District, committed state government today to pay at least part of the cost of a new arena to keep the Bullets and Capitals playing their home games in Prince George's County.

Schaefer would not elaborate on how much the state would contribute toward the estimated $150 million needed to replace the aging USAir Arena in Largo, but said he and arena owner Abe Pollin were committed to keeping the basketball and hockey teams in Maryland.

Schaefer met with Pollin today at the State House and told reporters afterward that Pollin was "absolutely emphatic" about his desire to stay in Maryland.

"I would do everything I could to see them stay in Prince George's County," Schaefer said. "You don't want to lose them."

In other developments, Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening said today that he hopes a state government agency, similar to the Maryland Stadium Authority, can be established to finance a new arena next to the 20-year-old USAir Arena.

Part of the county's pitch to retain the Bullets and Capitals will be that construction of a Metrorail extension might be accelerated to coincide with arena construction.

"I want to make sure they stay here," Glendening said. "I've told everyone to pull together the best state-local-private combination we can."

John P. Davey, a lawyer and former chief administrative officer of the county government whom Glendening has named to direct the effort for a new arena, said tonight that the county is a strong contender to be the home of a new arena.

"I don't think there's any question that we will make a better-than-competitive bid, because we're starting off with assets that nobody else has," said Davey, noting the water and sewer lines already at the site near the Capital Beltway, as well as nearly complete road improvements in the area.

The state and county are drafting an environmental impact statement for an extension of Metrorail from Addison Road to the site of the USAir Arena, once known as Capital Centre. Glendening and Davey said there may be a chance to speed up construction to enhance public transportation to a new arena.

Asked about the potential cost of the rail line, Glendening said, "It would be less than the light-rail line to Camden Yards," the popular, $100 million ballpark of the Baltimore Orioles that was paid for by public funds.

In the District, a group of government and business leaders hoping to lure Pollin's teams have prepared plans for a $150 million arena, financed with rental income from skyboxes. The sites being considered for the District arena include several near existing Metro stations.

At the State House this afternoon, Pollin declined to comment about his meeting with the governor. Later in the day, Pollin associate Jerry Sachs said the team owner would consider carefully any offer to replace or renovate USAir Arena, which lacks many of the amenities of sports facilities that have sprung up in the last five years.

Sachs is president of the partnership, led by Pollin, that controls the arena.

With the District aggressively pursuing the teams, Pollin ultimately could choose between competing proposals, weighing the advantages of location, access to public transportation, parking and other amenities.

"I hope we have the opportunities to consider all options," Sachs said.

Based on preliminary estimates, a new arena could cost $125 million to $150 million, specialists said. The land on which the facility would be constructed in Prince George's County is owned by a county agency.

If the General Assembly establishes a state authority to issue bonds for construction, the bondholders could be paid back with arena revenue, from the lease arrangement or from several other sources, Davey said.

Pollin raised the possibility of public financing for a new arena just as a debate was heating up over whether the state government should continue its commitment to build a football stadium in Baltimore.

Schaefer hopes to keep open the option of bringing a National Football League team to the city, but said the state also could help in construction of an arena in Prince George's.

Schaefer said Pollin told him today that the current arena "just doesn't meet the requirements of a modern" basketball and hockey team and crowd. "He wants a new arena," Schaefer said.

Staff writer Tom Heath contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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