Developers break ground for Capital Centre project


LANDOVER - The Capital Centre was state-of-the-art when it opened almost 30 years ago with skyboxes and a giant screen that showed instant replays. But in later years, the arena where the Washington Bullets won their only National Basketball Association championship was outdated and unwanted by its big-league tenants.

The sports and concert venue abutting the Capital Beltway was used in the past year only for indoor men's lacrosse, and yesterday, as the saying from the Bullets championship season went, the fat lady finally sang. Developers began knocking down the building, known as US Airways Arena in its last few years.

Shops, restaurants and maybe a theater are to open by next fall in a $80 million redevelopment project called Boulevard at The Capital Centre.

"This is an emotional day for us," said Abe Pollin, chairman of Washington Sports & Entertainment LP, which owns the arena. "We built this building and have very wonderful memories. One of the things I promised all the folks of Prince George's County was we would never let this place become a white elephant."

Pollin is teaming with Cordish Co. of Baltimore to transform the 70-acre site into a outdoor retail center in the "main street" style.

Other partners in the project include basketball great Michael Jordan and Ted Leonsis, an America Online official who heads an investment group that owns the Washington Capitals and a minor portion of the Wizards, formerly the Bullets.

The National Hockey League Capitals and the NBA Wizards moved from the Capital Centre to the MCI Center in downtown Washington almost five years ago.

Cordish has signed about 40 tenants for the Capital Centre site. Family restaurants such as Chuck E. Cheese will replace the old concession stands. Pier 1 home furnishings will take the place of stadium seats. And suits from Men's Wearhouse will be donned instead of Wes Unseld jerseys.

Other tenants include Borders Books and Music, Linens n' Things, Starbucks and Children's Place. Also announced yesterday were Nick & Tony's, an upscale steakhouse; Red Star Tavern, a Midwestern chain; and Mondo Bondo Italian Bistro. All will have indoor and outdoor seating.

A 16-screen movie theater planned by former basketball star Earvin "Magic" Johnson was scrapped for financial reasons, but Cordish expects to announce a replacement soon.

Developer David Cordish said his company, which is financing the construction, has been working on the project for two years and originally planned about 125,000 square feet of retail space. The company has signed shops and restaurants that will occupy about 400,000 square feet.

"Slowly, momentum has built with tenants," Cordish said at a groundbreaking ceremony yesterday that concluded with Cordish, Pollin and Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry manning heavy machinery that ripped concrete block and metal from the Cap Centre frame.

The ceremony was also attended by Hall of Famer Unseld, a former Bullets player and coach, and the team's current executive vice president and general manager.

Curry said the majority-black county has been overlooked in the past by upscale retailers despite the concentration of residents with advanced degrees and median incomes that exceed the national average.

The county, which owns the land under the Cap Centre, signed a long-term lease with developers and will get rental payments and property and amusement taxes. The project is expected to generate about 750 jobs.

"It makes my heart beat and shudder to think of all that's happened here and all that will happen here," Curry said. "This is a great market, and that market has not been served."

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