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Bullets, Caps move one step closer to D.C.


An article in yesterday's sports section misidentified Dorn McGrath, a professor of urban and regional planning at George Washington University and chairman of the Committee of 100 on the Federal City.

The Sun regrets the errors.

In a setback to Maryland's efforts to retain the Bullets and Capitals, the District of Columbia City Council yesterday approved a package of measures aimed at building a new arena in downtown Washington.

The council, by voice vote, agreed to the framework of an agreement negotiated between team owner Abe Pollin and District business leaders, exempted the proposed site from property taxes, and extended a special employer tax to help pay for the $150 million arena.

"We are really pleased with what has happened today," said Jerry Sachs, a top aide to Pollin. "The action by the council is very pleasing and we are grateful to them and to the mayor. We very much look forward to working with them to bring this project to completion."

The agreement calls for a new, nonprofit entity, the National Capital Development Corp., to build and own the arena at a site known as Gallery Place, in the Chinatown area of Northwest Washington.

Pollin has agreed that the NBA Bullets and NHL Capitals will rent the facility for 30 years, with two 10-year renewal options. Under current projections, the arena could open in the fall of 1997.

Both teams now play at USAir Arena, built by Pollin in 1973 in Landover, just off the Capital Beltway in Prince George's County.

Kwasi Holman, executive director of the District of Columbia Chamber of Commerce, which helped broker the arena deal, described yesterday's action as "another major milestone in the project.

"It looks very positive," he said.

Many details of the project still must be worked out, and some Maryland officials pledged to carry on the fight despite mounting indications that the teams will be leaving.

"We do probably have a couple of strikes against us. No. 1 is the owner has decided that NBA teams ought to play in city centers and the second strike is that one jurisdiction is willing to raise taxes to pay for this," said Parris Glendening, county executive of Prince George's County.

He said he would not support raising taxes to pay for an arena in Maryland, something he acknowledged "does put us in a little bit of a disadvantage."

The county and state have agreed to split $500,000 worth of studies exploring the feasibility of building an arena in the county. Preliminary elements of the study are under way, but most of the money will not be spent unless there is some indication that talks could resume with the teams, Glendening said.

"The D.C. vote is obviously a very important first step in the process . . . but there are about a half-dozen other steps to go," Glendening said.

The teams will have to review the council's action, and, if acceptable, enter into lease negotiations, Sachs said. Washington will have to lend -- probably for free -- the city-owned site, and a host of environmental, regulatory and other issues will have to be addressed.

"There are many hurdles to overcome," said Dorn McGrath, a professor at Georgetown University and a member of the Federal City Council, a private business group that helped negotiate the original deal.

"This indicates very serious interest on the part of the city to make an attractive offer to Mr. Pollin," McGrath said.

Joe Harrison, a spokesman for Gov. William Donald Schaefer, said, "We need to talk with the county and get more details before we decide where to go from here."

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