Representatives of the WNBA have met with Mayor Sheila Dixon to discuss the possibility of moving a franchise to Baltimore once a new downtown arena is built, Dixon said yesterday.
The mayor also said she would like to see the new facility built on the same downtown site where the 14,000-seat 1st Mariner Arena stands.
Dixon mentioned the possibility of attracting a women's basketball franchise after being asked if a new arena should be large enough for an NBA team.
"I think we need a larger arena," she said. "But I don't think we should rely on attracting the NBA."
When asked about the city's prospects for attracting a women's team, she said, "We're going to see where things go."
WNBA representatives could not be reached for comment.
The WNBA, in its 12th season, has 14 franchises, including the Washington Mystics. Most are based in cities that also have NBA teams.
The Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development arm, is preparing to announce a recommendation for a replacement arena after spending more than half a year reviewing proposals from some of the city's biggest developers. Seven teams have offered plans that range from keeping the facility in downtown's west side to building it in a neighborhood where major redevelopment is under way, such as Canton, Westport or South Baltimore.
"It should stay where it is," Dixon said yesterday, in her most open comments to date on the fate of the arena.
The mayor said she had conveyed that opinion in a meeting with the panel reviewing proposals. The city would probably have to close the arena, which it owns, for many months to build a replacement on the existing site, but Dixon said she would "take the hit" if it were up to her.
BDC President M.J. "Jay" Brodie could not be reached for comment on Dixon's statements.
A report unveiled last year by the Maryland Stadium Authority recommended that 1st Mariner Arena, which is now 46 years old, be replaced because it has "served its useful life."
The study recommended a 15,000- to 16,000-seat replacement rather than the 18,000- to 20,000-seat facility required for an NBA or NHL franchise. A smaller arena could attract minor league hockey or arena football in addition to housing the Baltimore Blast indoor soccer franchise, the report said, and would cost tens of millions of dollars less.
The NBA founded the women's league and has traditionally subsidized it to cover operating losses. Average attendance has remained relatively stable in recent seasons, though at 7,742 in 2007, it fell more than 3,000 below the league's 1998 peak.
See video of Mayor Dixon talking about the arena at baltimoresun.com/arena