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City's failure to dream big dooms arena plans

The Clarion Group
The Clarion Group
Baltimore harbor

Over the years, our fair city has attracted a number of nicknames, the quaintest of all being Small-timore, a nod to the idea that for all its big city amenities and problems, Baltimore is, in many respects, a small town.

This is the kind of place where people travel in the same circles, raise their kids together and cast a wary, but eventually welcoming eye in the direction of strangers.

Most significantly, Baltimoreans know, and typically like each other. There is, to be sure, a certain, well, charm, to living here. By and large, this place feels like home.

There are times, however, when Baltimore struggles to shrug off its little town blues to its detriment. One of those is its refusal to mount the civic will to replace, once and for all, the monstrosity that passes for an indoor arena. In recent weeks, construction has begun on renovating the 60-year-old facility now known as Royal Farms Arena.

The renovation, estimated to cost $150-200 million, is being paid for by a Los Angeles-based investment group, In exchange, the Oak View Group will get to lease, renovate and manage the city-owned arena for 30 years.

The project, which is expected to be completed by next February, will reportedly add about 2,000 seats as well as luxury suites. Sightlines, concession stands and acoustics will also be improved, according to building general manager Frank Remesch. In a recent interview with local radio host Glenn Clark, Remesch said the refurbished arena will go quote toe to toe unquote with other cities for the biggest concert draws, making it a quote concert arena unquote, hosting 50-60 shows a year.

At the same time, Remesch said, the arena will go after one-off sporting events like NCAA tournament games and contests involving the Washington Wizards and Capitals and the University of Maryland’s men’s basketball team.

With all due respect to Remesch, who has, by all accounts, done an outstanding job of keeping the former Civic Center relevant long past what should have been expected, this is horse-and-buggy thinking at its worst.

At roughly 15,000 seats, a refurbished arena named for Royal Farms or to whatever corporate entity the Oak View Group sells the naming rights to will still be too small to host events for Washington teams or for Maryland, all of which play in sleeker buildings with at least 2,000 more seats each.

The one positive development from all this is that the stage whose presence was insisted by former city comptroller Hyman Pressman during construction, will be gone.

However, at the end of this lease, Baltimore will have a 90-year-old eyesore that will still be antiquated, tiny and ill-befitting a great city like ours – kind of like things are now.

We said in this space a year ago that the best long-term solution for Baltimore’s aching need for a world-class arena that could truly do battle with other cities was at State Center. That view hasn’t changed.

It appears, instead, that the polished up, but past its prime downtown arena, will be one more example of why Charm City is called Small-timore. And this example isn’t so charming.

And that’s how I see it for this week. You can reach us via email with your questions and comments at Sports at Large at gmail.com. And follow me on Twitter at Sports at Large.

Until next week, for all of us here, I’m Milton Kent. Thanks for listening and enjoy the games.

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.