www.baltimoresun.com/sports/nba/bs-sp-baltimore-nba-1017-20131016,0,1965991.story

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City has major hurdles to clear to bring NBA team here

Biggest obstacle is lack of modern arena

By Childs Walker, The Baltimore Sun

7:11 PM EDT, October 16, 2013

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Baltimore has not had an NBA team to call its own since 1973, and despite occasional murmurings of interest from city leaders, there is no sign that will change anytime soon.

The city will host the Washington Wizards for the first time since 1999 for a Thursday night exhibition against the New York Knicks and Baltimore native Carmelo Anthony. Tickets for that event have sold well, with a full house possible at Baltimore Arena.

But major obstacles stand in the way of Baltimore even flirting with the NBA. The league has shown little recent interest in expanding. Even if it did, Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis would likely have the power to block a competitor from entering the Baltimore/Washington market.

Baltimore lacks a modern, NBA-sized arena. And the city would also face questions about its paucity of major corporate sponsors.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake recently said she has held exploratory conversations about attracting a team but has found no "serious" interest.

Discussions are ongoing regarding a public-private financing plan for a new arena, said Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. But Fry acknowledges that Willard Hackerman, president and CEO of Towson-based Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., has found it challenging to raise money for the project.

Even if it happens, there's no indication basketball would be part of the new facility's core programming.

"The initial goal of a new arena was not predicated on the intention of attracting a professional basketball team or a professional ice hockey franchise," Fry said in an e-mail. "However, if a new arena is constructed with a seating capacity of 18,500, there is always the possibility that an NBA/NHL [franchise] seeking to relocate could consider Baltimore as a potential venue."

Minor league basketball, whether the NBA Development League or another variety, would be a poor business prospect for the existing Baltimore Arena, said the facility's general manager, Frank Remesch. "The building is too successful without it," he said. "It's not worth giving up the dates for family shows and concerts."

He called minor league sports a tough road. "Especially in this town," he said. "We're snobby. We have the Ravens and Orioles."

Fry added that a new arena could help attract the Wizards to play in Baltimore more frequently and also attract other basketball events to the city. "A new arena does open up tremendous possibilities for a host of NCAA and Olympic trial events," he said.

Remesch remembered the 1990s, when Baltimore hosted four Bullets/Wizards games a year, contests that rarely drew sellout crowds.

"I don't think the city could support either professional hockey or basketball," he said. "I hate to say that because I grew up in Baltimore. But I just don't see it."

Remesch said tickets for the Wizards-Knicks game have sold well because it's a novelty and will feature Anthony playing in his hometown.

"It's unbelievable how well it's doing," he said. "But it's a one-time event."

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

childs.walker@baltsun.com