It's hard to imagine anyone in Prince George's County objecting to a plan to demolish US Airways Arena and replace it with an upscale retail and entertainment complex.
But, given the reactions by some officials to developers' plan to raze the arena, it's obvious that they have misgivings about getting rid of the 25-year-old facility.
"Startled," is how one official described her reaction. Jim Estepp, chairman of the County Council, said he was "concerned" and "apprehensive" about the change in developers' plans.
There's no reason for apprehension or concern. US Airways Arena is a white elephant and should be torn down.
Certainly sports entrepreneur Abe Pollin, who owns the arena, doesn't appear to have any misgivings about demolition. Pollin and the Cordish Co., a Baltimore-based development firm, originally planned to redevelop the arena as a retail and entertainment complex. But the age and configuration of the former Capital Center caused them to rethink the original plan.
"As we looked at more details [in the structure] and as we discussed the project with prospective tenants, it became apparent that it created complications," said Blake Cordish, vice president for development. "We did not want to keep a structure just for the sake of keeping a structure and not be able to bring in the kind of tenants" that county officials want.
Quite frankly, Pollin's decision to build MCI Center in the District two years ago and move the Washington Wizards and Capitals there from US Airways Arena raised serious doubts about the viability of the older facility.
The combined 82 home games the two teams played each year at US Airways Arena obviously accounted for the bulk of admissions taxes collected annually by Prince George's County.
Still, some officials, who acknowledge harboring a feeling of nostalgia for the arena, think of it as an asset with considerable value.
The county and the Maryland Capital Park and Planning Commission own the land on which the arena stands, but it's not as though the county would lose money if the arena were demolished. The county would, in fact, reap substantially more revenue from a new stand-alone retail-entertainment complex and a new lease that's currently being negotiated.
As it is, admission taxes are only a fraction of what they were before the departure of the Wizards and Capitals.
The real issue is what's best for the county in the long run and not whether the arena should be saved.
"Obviously our foremost objective is to get a deal for the county that makes rational business sense," said County Executive Wayne K. Curry.
Curry acknowledged there are pros and cons to demolishing the arena. But he added that the recent disclosure by developers that they plan to raze the structure "was [Cordish Co. Chairman David Cordish] simply saying what was obvious."
"I'm astonished by the naivete and reaction" to the disclosure, Curry added. "I don't know what the Capital Center will be like 24 years from now," he said pointedly, noting that Prince George's County is "tied to a very unattractive business proposition" in the current lease that doesn't expire on the 60-acre site until 2022.
Neither Curry nor Cordish would discuss details of the negotiations but both indicated the two sides are close to reaching an agreement.
The next step, of course, is convincing the council that razing the arena makes sense structurally, aesthetically and economically.
"I don't know that a [development] concept couldn't work around the Capital Center," said Estepp, who noted, "I'm always apprehensive about the unknown."
Estepp nonetheless said he's looking forward to seeing the new development plan. "If they have a better plan that will bring the upscale services that people in the county want, then I'm not opposed to that."
At least the county hasn't been asked for a subsidy to complete the project. Originally envisioned as a $60 million investment, the redesigned project will cost an estimated $95 million, including demolition, to complete, Cordish said.
Despite misgivings by some officials, the new design appears to be not only fundamentally sound but more practical than the original version. Instead of adding new elements to the old arena's irregular shape, developers now plan to build a pedestrian-oriented town center on the site. The idea, they explained, is to recreate an atmosphere that is reminiscent of Main Street U.S.A.
Simply put, a mix of fashion and other retail stores and restaurants will line both sides of "Main Street," which will be open to pedestrians only.
Developers also plan to build a 5,000-seat performance theater, complementing a 16-screen theater that will be operated by former NBA star Earvin "Magic" Johnson in partnership with Sony Corp.
Given all that, approving the plan to demolish US Airways Arena should be a no-brainer.