Mayor Marion Barry strengthened Washington's economic base and self-esteem by persuading sports impresario Abe Pollin to agree to build a new arena near the Gallery Place Metro station.
Downtown is the best site for such entertainments as the National Basketball Association Bullets and the National Hockey League Capitals, both of which Mr. Pollin owns and both of which play at the USAir Arena, formerly the Capital Centre, in Prince George's County. Washington's Chinatown on the Metro, near the Convention Center, is a better spot.
There may yet be some doubt hanging over the deal. Washington, which is broke and subject to the financial controls of Congress, is obligated to prepare the site for $35 million to $65 million. Mr. Pollin undertakes to find the $180 million to build the 23,000-seat arena. They claim construction will begin in August.
What this says about Baltimore is that the Bullets have been Washington's and not Baltimore's team since Mr. Pollin moved them from the Baltimore Arena (then the Civic Center) to his new hall in Largo just over two decades ago. They are not the Washington Baltimore Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Area Bullets. They are the Capital Bullets, whether they continue to play a few well-attended games here or -- on account of the need to keep their expensive new arena busy -- not.
This move, if it succeeds, fits reality and strengthens the argument that Baltimore also needs such an arena, and such professional teams, of its own. Washington and Baltimore are either separate metropolitan areas, each providing the market for major and competing sports franchises, or they are one megamarket on the order of Los Angeles or San Francisco Bay, able to support and deserving of two of everything.
It also strengthens the argument for a National League baseball franchise in RFK Stadium in Washington or in Northern Virginia, and for a National Football League franchise in Baltimore. It weakens the case for a Washington Redskins NFL stadium in Laurel or some other midway site, and strengthens the case in such an eventuality for a Canadian Football League franchise in RFK Stadium as soon as the Redskins vacate.
Baltimore need not get angry at Abe Pollin for going into the heart of his town, but rather should find counterparts who will emulate him here.