Something's wrong with this picture: Revenue from admissions and entertainment taxes fell by $2.3 million in Prince George's County during the fiscal year that ended June 30.
Prince George's County nevertheless led the state in entertainment tax revenue with $8.7 million, despite the fact that the Washington Wizards and Capitals haven't played at USAirways Arena since Abe Pollin moved them to MCI Center in downtown Washington two years ago.
Clearly, the loss of USAirways Arena's two major attractions has put a dent in Maryland's and Prince George's County's admissions tax coffers. And with fewer events scheduled in USAirways Arena, the facility is fast becoming a mere architectural curiosity hovering over the Capital Beltway.
A recent study showed that a 19,000-seat National Basketball Association arena in Baltimore, for example, would generate about $10 million annually in state and local taxes. A National Hockey League arena would generate an estimated $8.5 million in annual tax revenue.
County officials could fill the revenue void at USAirways Arena with expeditious approval of a plan by Pollin and Baltimore developer David Cordish to raze the building and replace it with an upscale retail and entertainment center.
The 60-acre arena site would be more productive with a new project generating sales taxes as well as revenue from the admissions tax. County residents would have access to a quality retail and entertainment center. And Pollin, who leases the site from the county (the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission), would no longer have the makings of a white elephant on his hands.
"I think we've got a good conceptual framework" in place, Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry said, referring to negotiations with Cordish and Pollin on a new lease and the development proposal. The matter has been turned over to lawyers to complete the necessary documents, Curry added.
"We've reached closure on all substantive issues," Cordish said. "We now have the draft of a legal document to codify" the lease and development plan.
Meanwhile, Prince George's leads the state in tax revenues from sporting events despite the loss of the county's minor-league hockey team and the decline in admissions at USAirways Arena.
In Baltimore, where Major League Baseball's Orioles and the National Football League's Ravens play in stadiums built by the state, admissions taxes collected by the Maryland Stadium Authority were down about $2 million last year.
How is that possible, you ask? Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer attributed the decline to less-than-successful seasons for the Orioles and Ravens.
That's one way of putting it. You could also say that the decline represents something less than a fair return on the state's $200 million investment in PSINet Stadium, where the Ravens play, and the $100 million Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
State officials justified the decisions to finance construction of the two stadiums, describing them as major economic development projects that would generate millions of dollars in tax revenue and create thousands of jobs.
Besides, the stadiums would be built with funds from Maryland's zillion and one lottery games, officials rationalized.
Overall, Maryland recorded a $4 million decline in admissions and entertainment tax revenue at the end of the fiscal year, with collections by the stadium authority accounting for half of the decline, the comptroller's office reported last week.
About $637 million was spent in Maryland on entertainment during the fiscal year that began July 1, 1998, and $136 million on sporting events. The fact that Prince George's County led the state in entertainment tax revenue is an important statement about spending power in the county.
Cordish and Pollin are obviously aware of that spending power, even though Pollin chose to move the Wizards and Capitals to the District. They not only hope to capitalize on spending in the county but to create a new shopping and entertainment experience for county residents.
Instead of redeveloping USAirways Arena as originally proposed, the developers plan to replace it with a pedestrian-oriented retail town center, containing a mix of stores and restaurants. The project will also include a 16-screen multiplex theater, operated by former NBA star Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Sony Corp., as well as a 5,000-seat performing arts center.
Members of the county council and civic groups will no doubt have many questions, if not reservations, about the proposal during hearings to be held this fall. But endorsing the project, both as an important source of revenue and a suitable replacement for USAirways Arena, should be a no-brainer.