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  D.C., Prince George's Face Off for New Sports Arena

By Michael Abramowitz and Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 12, 1994; Page A01

After weeks of quiet, behind-the-scenes negotiations over a new home for the Washington Bullets and Capitals, officials in the District and Maryland are now openly wooing owner Abe Pollin with competing plans for a world-class arena.

Sources said yesterday that Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly and her aides have been conducting private meetings aimed at luring the two teams to a proposed new downtown arena and have tried to approach Pollin about possible locations.

"It is no secret that we want them in Washington," said Merrick T. Malone, the District's top economic development official. "We would . . . do everything in our powers to have them here."

For the last five weeks, sources said, the Kelly administration has been working quietly with civic and business leaders on a plan for a new downtown arena to get the jump on officials in Maryland who want the teams to remain in Prince George's County. Yesterday's comments by Malone marked the first public disclosure by the Kelly administration of a major push to build an arena at a city-owned site near Metro's Gallery Place station on the Red Line.

This week, after learning the outline of the District's plan, Prince George's County officials accelerated their own effort for a public-private plan to finance a new stadium for Pollin's teams next to their existing home at the USAir Arena in Largo.

County officials this week lined up support for the tentative plan from key leaders, including Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

But county officials also encountered unease yesterday among some legislators in Annapolis over spending money on a new sports arena. Some legislators said yesterday that the state should be focusing on other priorities, including school construction, and expressed concern that Pollin is pitting one jurisdiction against the other in his effort to find a new home for his teams.

In Annapolis, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany) said several questions remain about how far the state should go in assisting plans for a new arena in Prince George's. The $130 million to $150 million estimated cost of such a project represents a "very big number," Taylor said.

"The issue is how to maximize the economic value of Lar state and county taxpayers without entering into a bidding war with the District or any other subdivision," said Del. Timothy F. Maloney (D-Prince George's).

Maloney is one of several legislators working with County Executive Parris N. Glendening (D) to develop a proposal to build a new arena. Officials said they are considering financing the arena in much the same way the state financed Camden Yards for the Baltimore Orioles, in which a stadium authority borrowed the money and is repaying the debt with proceeds from a state lottery game and other sources.

County officials cleared one hurdle this week when Schaefer endorsed the concept, while aides to Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday that Baltimore will pursue neither team. Prince George's officials had been concerned that Baltimore officials might make a run for the Bullets but said yesterday that they are much more confident that if a new arena is built in Maryland, it will be in the county.

Glendening noted yesterday that Prince George's officials had supported the effort by Baltimore to obtain state financing for new baseball and football stadiums.

"It would be grossly unfair if they were to turn around and raid another jurisdiction," Glendening said.

Glendening, who is running for Maryland governor this year, also expressed anger over District efforts to lure the teams, noting that he had strongly supported city officials in their attempt to keep the Redskins within the District lines.

"I don't see the same spirit of regional cooperation," he said.

Pollin spokesman Jerry Sachs could not be reached for comment yesterday. He has said that that the 20-year-old arena is out of date and that a new building, paid for with public funds, is needed to spur interest among fans of the Bullets and Capitals. Sources said yesterday that Pollin had already ruled out a site near Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, preferring to be downtown.

At the moment, the two jurisdictions with the most interest in the Bullets and Capitals appear to be Prince George's and the District. One senior official in Maryland said that Virginia Gov. George Allen has been trying to encourage Northern Virginia officials to develop an arena plan; a spokeswoman for Allen declined to comment.

The Prince George's proposal to keep the Bullets and Capitals is still in an early stage. Glendening said yesterday that the county plans to hire a consulting firm to prepare a feasibility study on the new arena, but key questions remain unanswered, such as where the revenue would come from to repay the bonds and what to do with the existing USAir Arena.

State Sen. Arthur Dorman (D-Prince George's), whom Glendening has asked to work on the arena proposal with Maloney and others, said one possible source for the estimated $12 million to $14 million needed annually to pay off arena bonds is the same lottery revenue that has helped fund Camden Yards.

Dorman also said he was puzzled by efforts to finance a new arena in the District.

"I can't figure that out," he said. "They don't have two nickels to rub together down there. They have a $200 million deficit, and now they're talking about a new stadium."

Under the District's plan, taxpayers would not finance the new arena. The District is exploring a financing plan similar to Maryland's, with revenue from luxury box rentals paying the mortgage.

Staff writer Richard Tapscott contributed.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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