It's time to talk about a new Baltimore arena

It's time to talk about a new Baltimore arena
January 11, 2014, 8:00 am
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It’s quiet in Baltimore these days. For the first time in six years, the Ravens aren’t in the playoffs and the Orioles’ home season won’t start for nearly three months.

Spring training starts in a little over a month, and this week there was the fascinating State of the Ravens conference, but no live sports.

Since the Ravens season abruptly ended, there was some talk about Towson’s exciting football season, which ended in a resounding loss last weekend. There hasn’t been much else.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there as a third major league sports team in Baltimore?

There once was.

In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the Orioles, Colts and Bullets were all championship quality.

The Bullets moved to Landover in 1973, and then became the Wizards upon their move to Washington in 1997. For nearly a decade, until they left Landover, the Bullets played a handful of games in Baltimore.

They were well-attended, but since the move, there have been only two exhibition games played here—in 1999, and last October.

Thanks to Carmelo Anthony’s popularity, the Wizards’ game against the New York Knicks was a sellout. There was a lively crowd and hope that the NBA could return to Baltimore.

It’s an incredible longshot.

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The NBA already has 30 teams, and hasn’t expanded in a decade, and shows no signs it’s going to. The most recent teams that have moved—have relocated to Sun Belt cities: Memphis, New Orleans, Oklahoma City.
Even if a team was interested in moving, the Wizards hold territorial rights to Baltimore, and it’s unlikely they’d yield them.

No matter. No one will move to Baltimore without a new arena. The Baltimore Arena was built in 1962, and the Bullets, who moved from Chicago to play there, quickly decided it wasn’t’ going to do, and within a decade of their arrival, had left.

It wasn’t good enough for the NHL, either. When the league decided to double its six teams in 1967, Baltimore was supposedly on the short list, but the arena was a turnoff.

Instead, the city made do with minor league hockey, but there hasn’t even been any franchise since 1997. The Capitals played two exhibition games in recent years, but September’s game drew poorly.

A new arena is a must.

For years, the city has studied the feasibility of a new arena. They’ve debated its size and cost. One thought, back in 2007, was to build a midsize (15,000 seats) building.

That would be cheaper than an 18-20,000 seat arena, but would have no chance at attracting the NBA, but some chance of getting the NHL.

There hasn’t been any arena talk over the last few years.

The best site for a new arena would be its present one, a few blocks from Oriole Park, but that would remove Baltimore as a venue for concerts and sports for perhaps four years.

In recent years, the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen. UFC is coming in April, and the Colonial Athletic Association will stage its tournament at the Arena for the next three years.

In 2010, the last time there was any substantive discussion, Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake suggested an arena on the city’s West Side—near downtown. The Greater Baltimore Committee’s idea is to build one to adjoin the Baltimore Convention Center, across the street from Oriole Park.

Another once plausible arena site is gone. A large casino is being built just south of M&T Bank Stadium. That had once been a possible arena location.

Even if an arena is somehow built, Baltimore will have to prove to the NBA or NHL it’s worthy. In actuality, Baltimore is in the same category as Cincinnati, Kansas City and San Diego—cities that have strong MLB and NFL teams, but each lost NBA—and in the case of Kansas City—an NHL team as well.

Kansas City built the Sprint Center in 2007, hoping to attract major league sports. It has had some NCAA tournament games and big concerts, but no NBA or NHL. That would probably be the same in Baltimore.

With a new arena, instead of relying on smaller concerts (the Rolling Stones and Springsteen were the exception), circuses and indoor soccer to fill its dates, maybe the Wizards and Capitals could play a handful of regular season games. Perhaps Maryland could play a game or two there and attract the NCAA tournament. None of these will happen without a new building.

Do you want another minor league hockey team? It’s hard to market a minor league team in a major league market. They probably wouldn’t draw any better than the Blast, the indoor soccer team that averages around 5,000 fans per game.

A new arena was needed in the 1970s. Forty years later it’s needed more than ever.