Management firm nears deal for company that runs Baltimore Arena; SMG might bring city more sports, entertainment


A Philadelphia-based arena manager is trying to buy the company that runs the Baltimore Arena, a move which could bring professional basketball and hockey teams as well as other high-profile entertainment to the city.

SMG, which manages almost 65 convention and athletic complexes worldwide, is expected to close on the deal within the next few days. The company had submitted a bid last March to operate the Baltimore Arena, but lost to Washington Sports & Entertainment owner Abe Pollin, who has held the contract with the city since 1989.

Pollin's company owns the Washington Wizards of the National Basketball Association, the Washington Capitals of the National Hockey League and the Washington Mystics of the Women's NBA. The company also owns the MCI Center in Washington and USAirways Arena in Landover and, through a subsidiary, Centre Management, runs the Patriot Center at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., Cleveland State Convocation Center and the Baltimore Arena.

Matt Williams, a spokesman for Pollin's company, confirmed that Pollin is negotiating with SMG to buy part of Centre Management but would not disclose details of the negotiations. Williams did say, however, that the management contract for the Baltimore Arena is a specific component of the talks. Centre Management is paid $435,000 a year to manage the arena as part of a five-year contract awarded by the city last June.

If Pollin and SMG finalize a sale, the city Board of Estimates would have to approve of SMG managing the arena. The city Bureau of Purchasing must also review the contract, said Clinton R. Coleman, a mayoral spokesman.

Maureen Ginty of SMG said her company looks forward to bringing major entertainment to town. "We have really wanted to be in Baltimore. We're a pretty big management company, but we believe in being part of the community."

Although SMG officials did not outline their plans for the city yesterday, they said in their bid for the arena management contract in March that they wanted to bring a women's professional basketball team, minor league hockey and men's basketball to Baltimore.

Joseph Briglia, SMG vice president and director of business development, said at the time that the company also was interested in investing in a new arena.

SMG, formerly a component of Spectacor Management Group, is co-owned by Hyatt Hotels & Resorts and the concessionaire ARAMARK. The company manages such facilities as the Superdome in New Orleans and Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh.

Susan O'Malley, Washington Sports and Entertainment president, and Wes Unseld, general manager, met with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke on Monday to discuss the deal. The mayor said through a spokesman yesterday his primary interest is ensuring that arena workers do not lose their jobs.

"All that I know about the deal as it is contemplated at this time is that it protects the employment rights of all the existing employees of the arena, and that is a concern of mine," Schmoke said. "So I was delighted to hear that news."

City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III said he looks forward to new arena management because he believes Pollin should not control the Baltimore-Washington market's major sporting facilities. He complained that Pollin usually sent big-name entertainment to Washington.

"I thought it was a conflict of interest," Bell said.

Pub Date: 2/04/99

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