Brushing aside suggestions that the contract be competitively bid, the Board of Estimates approved yesterday a five-year extension of Centre Management's pact to run the Baltimore Arena.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke pushed for the contract extension over objections from Council President Mary Pat Clarke and others, saying that Centre Management saved the city $3.4 million during the four years it has run the arena.
The company, which also manages the USAir Arena -- formerly the Capital Centre -- in Landover and the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Va., assumed control of the city-owned arena in a no-bid deal in 1988.
The agreement with Centre Management caps the city's losses at the arena at $650,000 a year. If losses are less than that, the city pays a portion of the savings to the firm as a management fee.
"I am not comfortable with this contract," Ms. Clarke said, explaining that the city might gain more favorable terms from an open competition. "It should be bid."
Mark Adams, a lawyer, told the board that if the contract were competitively bid, the city would be in a stronger position to attract professional sports teams to play in the arena. He said that Abe Pollin -- who owns Centre Management, the Washington Bullets professional basketball team and the Washington Capitals professional hockey team -- has no incentive to seek professional teams to play in Baltimore.
But Mr. Schmoke pointed out that since the firm began running the arena, professional basketball games have been played in Baltimore each season. Those were the first regular-season professional basketball games played in Baltimore since the Bullets abandoned the city for Landover in 1973.
"It may be only four games," Mr. Schmoke said. "But that is four more games than we used to have."
Centre Management also came in for other criticism from Ms. Clarke and Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development. They pointed out that the firm has failed to live up to the city's minority set-aside law, which requires that 23 percent of municipal contracts be subcontracted to firms controlled by minorities and women.
Mr. Schmoke said the firm will be forced to comply with the set-aside law during the contract extension.
BUILD, a coalition of churches and community groups, also questioned whether jobs at the arena offered salaries and benefits needed to support families in Baltimore.
"The anecdotal evidence is that employees are significantly less well off [now] than when the arena was staffed by city employees," said Kathleen O'Toole, BUILD's lead organizer.
Mr. Schmoke disagreed with that assessment but directed Centre Management to share employment information with BUILD leaders in a private meeting.