Proposed Inner Harbor Arena. articlefeature--baltimore

Picturing Baltimore With A New Arena & Soccer Specific Stadium

In April we temporarily lifted our self-imposed ban on non-sports commentary, to provide some reaction to the protests and riots in Baltimore that month. Ultimately I decided while it was outside of our normal lane of operations, it would have been odd to run a site about our home, and not offer any thoughts.

The Mobbies have asked for entries which describe a wish, prediction, or message for Baltimore’s future.

I’m not going to jump back into those larger discussions much today, aside from restating a couple of ideas we believe to be all-encompassing. No matter which individual topic about Baltimore you want to focus on, I think these points have to be factored.

(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)

A) As we said in the prior piece linked above, we believe that if you grew up and/or live in the Baltimore Metro – Anne Arundel, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Carroll, Harford, Howard – you are from Baltimore. 

B) As a community, we haven’t done a particularly great job of promoting the positives that do exist. Outsiders know The Wire, but fail to know about the general affluence of the Metro as a whole. And make no mistake – if you look at the Metro’s education and median income levels – it is a fact that we live in one of the Nation’s most affluent areas. Forever, we’ve been labeled a rust belt city. An economy based on dying manufacturing. The real story is the transformation to an economy that is certainly helped by proximity to large amounts of Government jobs, but also huge growths in the BioTech, EdTech, and Financial Services industries.

C) You also can’t blame anyone from outside of Baltimore who has a negative perception of Charm City, because those negative perceptions are also rooted in reality. Violent crime has been reduced over the last decade+ (in some years, reaching 40 year lows), but those reductions have been essentially going from astronomically insane numbers, to still too much (and obviously largely pointing back up this year). We hear about the negatives of the City, because those negatives exist. There is no way around it. There can be a lot of good, in the City and the Metro as a whole – but until the ills that plague the City are really addressed; those messages of the good will never be received on a larger scale. If we as a whole want to rid the City of the social ills which damage all of us – whether you live in Canton, or Catonsville, or Ellicott City, or Bel Air, or Glen Burnie, or Westminster – it is going to take a group effort.

It should be clear to the Metro as a whole – we can no longer turn a blind eye towards the ills which have ravaged Baltimore City for too long.

D) Collectively Baltimore suffers from a mentality where we don’t dream big enough. Too often we seem to say the issues, problems, and limitations of today; are permanent. It’s just the way it is. The future isn’t written. Instead of saying this, and that can’t happen; let’s visualize what we want and start working towards.

With that, I’m going to circle back to sports. 

Why can’t Baltimore have a New Arena, and a Soccer Specific Stadium?

I just lost many of you.

Let me try and get you back.

There are larger issues facing Charm City than a New Arena, and building a Soccer Specific Stadium. I’m not going to attempt to debate that obvious point.

It’s been argued here at BSL (by an actual Economist) that the economics behind building a Stadium (or Arena) are poor.

I don’t have the knowledge, or wherewithal to provide a point-by-point counter. 

I will articulate the idea that I believe there is more than intrinsic value with buildings.

Can you imagine what Baltimore would be like if there was no Oriole Park at Camden Yards? When sites were being looked at, one consideration was building in Lansdowne.

Had that happened, I think it is very fair to wonder if the development we’ve seen in Canton, Federal Hill, and Harbor East ever takes place. If you counter that Canton is out of the foot-path of OPACY; I’d counter with the idea that OPACY got suburbanites used to coming back down town. The positive experiences in one area spurring growth elsewhere. 

Without OPACY, is there any reason to believe the Browns would have moved to Baltimore? I doubt it. Instead the leadership of Baltimore and Maryland was able to show Art Modell a downtown stadium which had worked, a path towards a better economic future for his franchise and family.

Ever go to DC, and the Verizon Center? Remember what that area was like prior to that construction? You can read more on the Economic impact there here.

Back to Baltimore, the Royal Farms Arena exists. The building should have been put out to pasture some time ago, but to be fair remains profitable hosting 130 events a year.

So you are left with circular arguments. “The Arena needs to be replaced.” “There are more pressing needs.” “Build anyway.” “What happens with the existing events when you are building?” 

Count me among those who believe you should be looking to build no matter what, even if it’s determined the best location is at the existing location, and the City loses out on the existing events for two years.

As of 2013, Baltimore had fallen from around 35th to 75th nationally in convention space, with the expectation of falling into the 100s within 5 years. Baltimore is now missing out on numerous conventions, with similar sized markets taking more of their share, and without the ability to compete for the larger events.
A New Arena would help combat that, which is why it’s criminal that Baltimore and Maryland was not able to take advantage of the proposal (inclusive of some private funding) from the late Mr. Willard Hackerman for  a New Arena and Convention Center expansion.

Roughly four years later, we saw the idea of a location at Piers 5 and 6 last January.

I’m not sure I love that idea, as I question if that location could help with attracting larger conventions, and I also don’t like the projected size of 15,000 seats.

If as a City (and State) you ultimately build a New Arena, you want a space that has the requisite amount of skyboxes, and total seats that it could ‘play up’ in time if there was eventually enough corporate dollars to go around to support a 3rd Major League team in Baltimore. Meaning just because Baltimore is not going to attract (or financially support) an NBA or NHL team in the immediate future; you should not build something from the beginning which would never be capable.

Ideally it would be 15,000 seats with the ability to easily increase capacity to roughly 18,500 if later need demanded it.

So, if it’s a given that the NBA and/or NHL would not be moving to Baltimore anytime soon, what outside of helping land larger conventions could a New Arena help with?

- Additional development in the surrounding area.

- Conference Tournaments: Big Ten, ACC, A10, CAA, MEAC… The CAA has recently been at the Royal Farm Arena, but I think the event would be more successful at a new Arena.

- NCAA Regionals…  hasn’t happened since Big Country Reeves was at Oklahoma State.
- NBA / NHL Regular season games. Exhibitions both happen now, but might have slightly more regularity. Also think you could see four regular season games with both the Wizards and Capitals as once existed with the Bullets.
- Maryland is playing Princeton at Royal Farms this Winter. This is the Terps first trip to Baltimore in sometime, and could certainly happen with more regularity.

- How about a Baltimore vs. DC. vs. Philadelphia weekend? Where each year, a city hosts, and also travels? Towson, UMBC, Loyal, Coppin, Morgan rotating as representing Baltimore. George Washington, George Mason, American, and Howard representing Washington. Temple, Penn, Drexel, La Salle, St. Joseph’s, and Villanova representing Philadelphia.  If you wanted to include Maryland with this event, the Terps are hosting Georgetown this year, and facing the Hoyas in D.C. next year. With a New Arena, perhaps Baltimore could host Maryland and Georgetown every 3rd year, and also Maryland / Villanova every 3rd year.

- High-school, and AAU showcases.

- Obviously all current events, with a higher level of better concerts. Admittedly, the existing Arena has upped their game in recent years and brought in a better caliber of acts.

If there is lukewarm support for the building of a New Arena, I understand there is even less for a Soccer Specific Stadium (SSS).

If I was prioritizing between the two, I would also go with the Arena first.

If it’s a world where we can have actualized dreams of multiple nice things, let’s also see that come to fruition.

It’s been discussed before.

In the Fall of 2009, former Mayor Shelia Dixon asked the Maryland Stadium Authority to consider building a SSS in Baltimore to lure the DC United. The results of that study can be found here.

The Washington Post reported in December 2010:

“Relocating the D.C. United soccer team to the Baltimore area would create between 780 and 940 jobs and up to $6.4 million in annual state and local tax revenues, according to a study issued Dec. 22 by the Maryland Stadium Authority and a Florida consulting firm.

D.C. United, which currently plays its home games at RFK Stadium, has been looking for a new building to call home for years. After the team failed to secure stadium agreements with officials in D.C. and Prince George’s County, Baltimore officials last year asked for a study of the potential economic impact that building a new stadium for the team would have on the area.

Researchers from Crossroads Consulting Services of Tampa considered the possibility of building a 25,000-seat stadium for D.C. United as part of a $1.1 billion mixed-use waterfront development planned for Westport, south of Baltimore. They said a stadium on that site would create up to $30.3 million in direct spending and $78.5 million in indirect spending annually, leading to jobs and tax revenue for the area.

Those projections, however, would require a bump in attendance for the team over its 2010 season. Although D.C. United is considered one of the most successful teams in Major League Soccer, it had a losing 2010 season and averaged just 14,532 fans, 13 percent less than the league average, according to the report.

In a new Westport stadium, however, the researchers estimated that the team would draw between 18,500 and 20,000 fans each game and that the stadium would host between 49 to 54 events per year, 17 of which would be D.C. United regular season games. Researchers also considered the impact of building a smaller stadium for the minor league soccer team Crystal Palace Baltimore. Crystal Palace Baltimore, which is in financial distress, will not field a team in 2011 and is hoping to reorganize for 2012

Kevin Payne, the team’s president and chief executive, issued a statement saying the team appreciated the interest from Baltimore and would “continue our conversations as we work toward the best possible long-term home for D.C. United.”

A lot has changed for MLS since 2009. Even though it could still be argued that expansion to Baltimore makes sense for the league (easy travel costs and potential natural rivals with Washington, Philadelphia, New York, and New England); future expansion candidates for the league are South and West.

So, knowing that, why would Baltimore build a SSS?

Many European Soccer leagues operate a system of promotion and regulation. From an American baseball point-of-view, the equivalent would be the AAA Norfolk Tides winning the International League and being promoted to Major League Baseball, with the Philadelphia Phillies heading back to AAA.

In the hierarchy of American Professional Soccer, MLS is considered Division 1.
Division 2 in America is the North American Soccer League (NASL).

The 2015 NASL is comprised of the:
Atlanta Silverbacks
Carolina Railhawks FC
FC Edmonton
Ft. Lauderdale Strikers
Indy Eleven
Jacksonville Armada FC
Miami FC
Minnesota United FC
New York Cosmos
Puerto Rico FC
Rayo OKC
San Antonio Scorpions
Tampa Bay Rowdies

In 2017 Atlanta will join MLS. In 2018 Minnesota will. Neither are being promoted, but their success as organizations in the NASL has paved the way for their expansion efforts into MLS.

The Cosmos have received all sorts of attention, and serve as an example of what Baltimore could shoot for.

There is an appetite for soccer locally. Baltimore has held a number of successful soccer exhibitions in recent years.  The Baltimore Blast averaged 6,200 fans last year in indoor soccer. (if New Arena construction displaced the Blast, perhaps they could spend a couple of years at the SECU Arena?)

What if Kevin Plank took a majority stake in the Blast, while also purchasing an NASL expansion effort? The Blast could be run as one organization, with inside and outside teams, but one organizational structure. Plank would have the ability to run the team similarly to the Cosmos, with the necessary pockets to attract top-end talent. The team would also benefit from the lack of salary cap restrictions, unlike within MLS.

Check out this Seattle fan experience, and picture it here.
The crowd walking through Fells Point, and Harbor East; reaching the new stadium at Pier 5. Head Coach Kenny Cooper, Jr?

Similar to what we said above with a prospective Arena, Baltimore would need it’s SSS to have a certain amount of seats (roughly 17 to 20k) and a minimum necessary level of corporate boxes to ever obtain an MLS team. 

If Baltimore built an SSS in the near-term, you don’t build it with the ability to never house an MLS team.  You build it around 12,500 seats with the ability to add additional seating if required later.

San Antonio’s Toyota Field would be a good plan to emulate. The estimated cost for Phase 1 was $35M. (Pictures of the stadium at the initial opening.) As they now pursue an MLS team, their stadium expansion plans can be found here.

In addition to housing an NASL team, and outside concerts; what else could Baltimore use an SSS for?

Ideally this SSS would have included the Headquarters for US Lacrosse which is being built in Sparks. Despite that, a join-venture between Baltimore’s soccer and lacrosse communities still make sense. The SSS could house the premier HS lacrosse showdowns, and also represent a great location for the Men’s Division 2, Division 3, and Women’s National Title (and Tournament) games. Perhaps Major League Lacrosse’s Bayhawks would return to Baltimore?

Still not buying in with building either? That’s okay. I get it. There are larger issues and more pressing needs.  Can we work on addressing those realities, so we can start working towards bigger dreams?

That’s my wish for Baltimore.

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Written by Chris Stoner
2 years ago
Baltimore, , ,

Chris Stoner

Chris Stoner founded Baltimore Sports and Life in 2009. He has appeared as a radio guest with 1090 WBAL, 105.7 The Fan, CBS 1300, Q1370, WOYK 1350, WKAV 1400, and WNST 1570. He has also been interviewed by The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Business Journal, and PressBox (TV). As Owner, his responsibilities include serving as the Managing Editor, Publicist, & Sales Director. You can reach him via email at [email protected].


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