$208,000 approved to study Arena Report will consider possibility of rebuilding or relocating facility


Baltimore will spend $208,000 to study whether to rebuild or relocate the Baltimore Arena.

Although the arena, at Lombard and Howard Streets, is not included in formal city redevelopment plans, city planners see the site as a key piece of property in keeping up momentum for the rejuvenation of downtown.

The city Board of Estimates unanimously approved hiring Price Waterhouse-Coopers yesterday to provide an economic report on the cost of rebuilding or relocating the 36-year-old facility, formerly known as the Civic Center. The study will pinpoint costs, which initially were estimated at $220 million.

Interest in redeveloping the arena has swelled over the last five years because of the opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the $223 million Ravens Stadium.

City officials point to Washington's successful opening of the MCI Center as an example of the economic development that the arena could spur.

The arena holds 11,200 fans. City officials are hoping to develop a new 20,000-seat auditorium that could lure major league hockey and basketball franchises to the city. The Baltimore Bullets played at the arena until 1973, when theteam moved to Washington.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke hoped to get $450,000 for the arena study, but the City Council slashed the spending in July to provide a property tax cut.

In other action, the Estimates Board approved leasing spots in the new city parking garage in Little Italy, but not without objections from a neighborhood association, Little Italy Community Organization.

The city will lease the 265 parking spaces at the Bagby Garage at Bank Street and Central Avenue to Skylar Development for $65 per space each month. In July, the Estimates Board authorized spending $7.7 million to build the garage on the site of the former Montebello Brands Inc. distillery.

By day, the parking spaces will be used by employees at Eisner & Associates Inc. and Caliber Learning Network Inc., an adult-education affiliate of Sylvan Learning Systems. By night, the spaces will be used by valet parking operators and people going to neighborhood restaurants.

Robert Marsili, president of the Little Italy neighborhood group, complained that the city may have been able to get more money by seeking competitive bids from potential parking site lessees. Marsili claimed that the city is being shortchanged through the $206,700 it will obtain from Skylar each month by leasing the spaces.

City Real Estate Officer Anthony Ambridge noted that the city's $7.7 million costs for the project translated to $120 per space, indicating that the city could lose money. But Ambridge added that the city could gain revenue for each space, depending on how much it obtains for night parking.

City officials, including Schmoke, view the Bagby parking site as critical to alleviating parking congestion in the five-by-four block neighborhood famous for its restaurants.

A study by city economic development officials last year showed that Baltimore will need 3,600 downtown parking spaces over the next year.

Pub Date: 9/10/98

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