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Hogan's State Center Plans Should Open Door For New Baltimore Arena

State Center, Baltimore
Eli Pousson via Flickr (Public Domain)
State Center, Baltimore

Sometimes, without intending to, those who propose a solution to one problem may actually provide an answer to another.

In an attempt to pump up one area of Baltimore, Gov. Larry Hogan is pushing for state workers now assigned to the State Center complex to move to leased space downtown to save money and bolster downtown.

That’s all well and good for the offices and the shops and the restaurants in and around the Inner Harbor, who could, frankly, use the help.

But what happens to State Center? What happens to the restaurants, the shops and the people who live and work in and around that area?

There is an answer that could resolve that issue and take care of a situation that has dogged Charm City for nearly 60 years.

Baltimore is a great city in dire, desperate need of a world-class indoor arena. That’s been the case since the Civic Center opened its doors in the fall of 1962 and remains that way today.

In its heyday, the Civic Center hosted Martin Luther King and Billie Jean King, the Beatles, the Stones, Elvis and wrestler Bruno Sammartino.

Earl Monroe polished his pearl status with the Bullets there. And Wes Unseld became a part of Baltimore’s sporting Mount Rushmore along with Brooks, Johnny U and Cal while donning those funky candy stripe uniforms and never leaving town even when the Bullets pulled up stakes and went to Washington.

In its later years, the place now named for a local convenience store chain has held its own due to tireless and relentlessly smart management. But a 14,000-seat arena with an anachronistic built-in stage just won’t cut it anymore.

And that’s where the State Center complex comes in. A brand, spanking new arena of between 17,000 and 20,000 seats would be a boon to midtown businesses and add heft to the nearby arts district.

The complex would sit on or near Martin Luther King Boulevard, giving easy access to the nearby interstates. And with mass transit stops around the area, getting into and out of the area would be a snap.

Right about now, many of you are screaming about the wisdom of making a civic investment that will likely total in the billions at such a precarious time.

There’s also the November call-to-arms by the Baltimore Development Corporation for a new arena developer, provided that arena is on the same site as the current facility.

Both those arguments are, from this perspective, examples of the kind of horse-and-buggy thinking that has often plagued this city.

Of far greater significance is the notion that there is no major current tenant for such a building, meaning an NBA or NHL team, nor a likely candidate on the immediate horizon.

That’s valid. But that didn’t stop a place like Kansas City, Mo., a town with 100-thousand fewer residents than Baltimore from erecting a roughly 20,000-seat facility 14 years ago for about $250 million.

There’s no big time hockey or basketball team there, to be sure, but the building is consistently filled with big time events. Baltimore’s building does well, but it’s way past time to do better, and the State Center could be the answer.

And that’s how I see it for this week.

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Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @SportsAtLarge

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.