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Baltimore’s Royal Farms Arena to be overhauled by developer with ties to the NBA’s Kevin Durant

Royal Farms Arena, the aging downtown Baltimore events venue, would be renovated, leased and managed by a global entertainment and investment company with ties to basketball star Kevin Durant under a deal being negotiated by Baltimore Development Corp.

The city’s economic development arm planned to make the agreement with the Los Angeles-based Oak View Group public Wednesday, after months of soliciting bids to redevelop the arena. A call for proposals went out in November.

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Oak View Group and its partner, Durant’s Thirty Five Ventures, will fully finance the costs of the renovation, which is expected to cost in excess of $150 million, they said in a news release to be issued Wednesday. The new design will feature glass materials, new lighting, signage and exterior sails, along with contemporary arena seating, corporate suites, food and beverage amenities, and a “reimagined concourse,” according to the release.

Royal Farms Arena, which opened in 1962 as the Baltimore Civic Center, is located downtown at 201 W. Baltimore St. June 22, 2021
Royal Farms Arena, which opened in 1962 as the Baltimore Civic Center, is located downtown at 201 W. Baltimore St. June 22, 2021 (Barbara Haddock Taylor)

Colin Tarbert, the BDC’s president and CEO, said the organization received three proposals from what he described as the “top three” arena developers in the country — a sign of Baltimore’s strength as an entertainment market.

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Oak View Group’s bid won, Tarbert said, due to its vision for the facility as well as its commitment to hiring local, minority and women businesses to build and run it.

“They will upgrade the current experience to be competitive on the East Coast, and be one of the top destinations on the East Coast, and increase, hopefully, the number of events at the arena,” he said. “It’ll be more of a world-class entertainment venue.”

Durant, who long wore the No. 35 jersey but now plays for the Brooklyn Nets with the No. 7 jersey, grew up in Prince George’s County. He attended Montrose Christian School in Rockville for his senior year of high school before playing at Texas and launching an NBA career.

In a statement, Durant and Rich Kleiman, co-founder of Durant’s Thirty Five Ventures, said they were “thrilled” to work on this project with the Oak View Group, and looked forward to bringing the Baltimore arena and “myriad sports and entertainment opportunities” to life.

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Royal Farms Arena, which dates to 1962, is considered cramped and antiquated, and city officials have been considering options to upgrade or replace it for the past two decades. Redevelopment plans have surfaced — and faded — several times. City and state economic development leaders most recently rejected a proposal to build a new arena at the site of the city’s convention center, concluding that the undertaking would be too unrealistic and taxing.

The BDC’s request for proposals only considered plans that would redevelop the arena in its current location downtown. All three proposals complied, Tarbert said, and proposed redeveloping the arena rather than building anew.

Tarbert said the arena, which currently fits 15,000 people, could be expanded to fit a slightly larger crowd, though details have not been finalized for the design yet. He said there could be bars and lounges inside the stadium as well as opportunities to redevelop the neighboring Hopkins Plaza.

Oak View Group and Thirty Five Ventures also are looking at ways to invest in the surrounding community, Tarbert said.

“Baltimore has such a rich music and sports history, and we look forward to working with BDC and the community to elevate live entertainment in the city and make the Baltimore Arena a premier destination for the biggest artists and events in the world,” Oak View Group CEO and founder Tim Leiweke said.

The development company previously has been involved in arena development in Seattle; Belmont Park, New York; Palm Desert, California; Manchester, United Kingdom; and at the University of Texas at Austin.

Thirty Five Ventures, Durant’s venture capital firm, has invested in companies such as Lime, the scooter proprietor; Postmates, the food delivery service; and Robinhood, the stocks and financial services app.

Before the coronavirus brought live entertainment and performing arts to a halt, Royal Farms Arena — formerly known as the Baltimore Civic Center, Baltimore Arena and 1st Mariner Arena — had brought acts such as Rihanna and the Jonas Brothers to Baltimore and had booked Celine Dion and Pearl Jam for the first half of 2020. The venue also hosts some athletics events such as indoor soccer, boxing and college basketball.

Now, as the city prepares to lift its mask mandate and other-virus related restrictions, Tarbert said crowds will be eager to fill the stadiums, arenas and concert halls.

“This is the perfect project to reopen local tourism and solidify our city as a top destination for events and entertainment,” Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said in a statement.

Tarbert said the arena benefits from its proximity to the Light Rail and Metro subway as well as Interstate 95. It’s also located close to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the Inner Harbor and the Baltimore Convention Center. A newly renovated Lexington Market and “Superblock” shopping district, currently underway, will complement the area soon, too.

Shelonda Stokes, president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, said the new arena will be a boon for the city even on days without performances.

“The current arena has consistently been one of the top-drawing facilities in the world and this new partnership will be able to take it to the next level,” Stokes said.

Oak View Group and Thirty Five Ventures said they would solicit 45% minority and women-owned business participation in construction and maintain that rate through “ongoing operations.” Oak View Group also said it would reserve at least 25% of the equity investment for minority investors.

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