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Next Baltimore Mayor Should Consider A New Arena

February 15, 2016

It's rather likely that after the April 26 primary election, we will know who the next mayor of Baltimore will be. Such is the nature of politics in our city.

This, of course, means we're in the homestretch when it comes to campaigning, which seems odd, considering the last few candidates didn't check in until February. 

For the purpose of full disclosure, I am not a Baltimore resident. I will not be participating in choosing a new mayor. I do, however, work in Baltimore and care an awful lot about the city. There's an issue facing the city I'd particularly like to hear the mayoral candidates address before the primary. 

You guys know we still badly need a new arena, right? 

Let me make sure I clarify. There are about a million other issues facing our city that are far more important than this in context. I do not think that whether former Mayor Sheila Dixon returns to the position or another candidate takes over for the first time, that they should prioritize the building over crime, education, drug issues, the economy, police support, public works or the six million or so other major issues facing our city. 

That being said, no individual issue facing the city exists within a vacuum. The person who will serve as the 50th (or repeat 48th) mayor of Baltimore will have to deal with all of the stuff that matters and will have to deal with the arena … and the future of the Preakness … and a potential return for the Sports Legends Museum and even more sportsy minutiae. 

Royal Farms Arena
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

The building currently known as Royal Farms Arena, on West Baltimore Street near Howard Street downtown, has been outdated for … I dunno … ever. Writing a column about the need for a new arena is as easy and obvious as writing something about how maybe, in hindsight, the Ravens would have been better off holding on to one of their all-time greatest wide receivers (Anquan Boldin) instead of picking up a sixth-round pick. (Don't worry: I'll probably crank another one of those columns out again soon, too.)

It's just that, for some reason, it just feels like no matter how obvious and glaring the issue is for our community, it just kind of disappears from our collective conscience for long stretches. We just kind of ignore it, as if it was that one weird uncle in the family no one really wants to deal with. Perhaps if Royal Farms hadn't purchased the naming rights, we could have just gone with "Uncle Bob Arena."

Arena general manager Frank Remesch and his staff have had an historic amount of success with the current barn, which has conspired to keep the issue out of sight and out of mind. Considering the building has showcased five Garth Brooks shows, the return of Bruce Springsteen to Charm City, a major regular-season men's college basketball game (the highly ranked Terps hosted Princeton in December), Janet Jackson, Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Justin Timberlake, Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band, Prince, Stevie Wonder, a UFC pay-per-view and much more in recent years, it isn't hard to understand why some might wonder if the city really does even need a new facility. 

(We do. The water damage on the ceiling tiles above me in the 200 section from where I watched the Terps down the Tigers in December reminded me that, yes, yes, we do.) 

Consider what Remesch and Co. have accomplished in the building. Now, imagine what that group might be capable of with a real arena. 

The NBA almost certainly isn't returning. The NHL is, at absolute best, a long shot. It's hard to tell what the viability for a WNBA team would be (as Dixon suggested was possible the last time she was in the mayor's office) as Ted Leonsis moves the Washington Mystics out of Verizon Center and into a smaller Ward 8 arena in the coming years. 

However, with the CAA men's basketball tournament leaving after this year, a new arena could make a future Big Ten tournament feasible here. And more consistent college basketball events. And maybe a Frozen Four. And maybe U.S. national team basketball events. And probably bigger and better conventions. And even a stop on Outkast's next reunion tour? (Look, I'm a dreamer.)

The thing is, we all know all of this. It's just … we don't talk about it. So I'm asking those who are vying for the top office in town to take it upon themselves to strengthen the conversation. Perhaps they won't actually solve the conundrum. I mean, they're politicians. Do they ever actually solve anything? 

But it's not going to happen if we just continue to ignore it. Speaking of which, how is Uncle Bob, anyway?

Issue 218: February 2016