Proposed sports center gains financial backing


The group backing the proposed Sports Center USA complex on Baltimore's Inner Harbor said it has cleared one of its highest hurdles: finding financing for the project's development and construction.

Funding for the center, which would have sports-related virtual-reality machines, motion simulators, video highlights booths and big-screen movies, "has been secured to the point where the entire project is ready to be developed, once we finalize details," said Lynda O'Dea, president of development for Sports Center USA Inc.

She declined to reveal the financiers' identities or the deal's structure.

Ms. O'Dea's group has estimated that the Sports Center, which would be installed in the vacant Power Plant building on Pier 4, would cost $32.5 million to set up.

The city, which owns the building, still must approve the project.

It's unclear what municipal concessions the development group will seek, if any. Often the backers of such high-priced, quasi-civic projects ask cities for loan guaranties, bargain leases or other inducements.

Ms. O'Dea's group this week gave city officials a detailed proposal that includes information on financing, architecture, 11 exhibit technology and community outreach.

Ms. O'Dea said officials would disclose details after the city responds -- probably next week, she added.

If the city approves and construction goes smoothly, she said, Sports Center USA could open by late next year.

The Power Plant, built in 1901 and holding more than 100,000 square feet of space, has been unused since the late 1980s, when Six Flags Corp. closed its amusement center and nightclub there because of poor attendance and financial losses.

The city has been dealing with Ms. O'Dea's group since 1992, when it gave the group an exclusive right to negotiate to redevelop the building.

Early backers of the project included Capital Cities/ABC Inc., Maryland Jockey Club President Joseph A. De Francis and Henry A. Rosenberg, chairman of Crown Central Petroleum.

Originally, Sports Center USA was supposed to open this year. Difficulties in finding financing delayed the project, officials have said.

The sports complex is a key part of the city's efforts to spruce up the east side of the Inner Harbor.

City officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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