Wednesday, July 4, 2007

County sees ‘pent-up demand’ for multi-use sports arena

Kansas City-based design firm will evaluate possible locations

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A sports and entertainment arena in Montgomery County could bring in an estimated $7.5 million in net revenue a year, according to a feasibility study commissioned by the Maryland Stadium Authority and released Friday.

The study assumes that Germantown would be the site for an arena with total capacity of 8,000 to 10,000.

HOK Sports of Kansas City has been hired to do preliminary site evaluation, said Tina Benjamin, a spokeswoman for the county’s Department of Economic Development.

‘‘They are going to be defining the building program and requirements,” Benjamin said. ‘‘Exactly how many seats, exactly how many sky boxes. They’ll look at sites, and they’ll do a very, very preliminary design with the thought that that will lead them to a preliminary cost.”

HOK Sports is the design firm behind dozens of sports stadiums and conference centers, including M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The county has allocated $200,000 — including $50,000 from the state — for the feasibility phase of the project, which covers the study released Friday and the work to be done by HOK Sports, Benjamin said.

The stadium authority study concludes that the lack of an arena in Montgomery County is ‘‘a major deficit in what is otherwise an amenity-rich environment” and that there is substantial ‘‘pent-up demand” for an arena.

‘‘Based on our analysis of the economic underpinnings of the proposed arena, its likely operating revenues and costs, its competitive environment, and the performance of similarly situated arenas throughout the U.S., there is little doubt that the forces required for financially successful arena operations have been in place for quite some time,” the report states.

The arena could accommodate indoor sports, concerts and graduations, the study says. Nearly all of county’s high schools hold their graduation ceremonies outside Montgomery County.

The study also recommends a six-lane indoor track.

‘‘I’m going to push for the county to pursue it,” said County Councilman Michael J. Knapp (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown. ‘‘We’re a community of 1 million people....I think at this point we at least need to take a look at it.”

In November, county officials mentioned several upcounty sites as possibilities, including the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg and the Germantown campus of Montgomery College.

Potomac resident Tom Doyle, one of the early proponents of an arena and president of the Maryland Nighthawks, an American Basketball Association team, has said that the stadium could cost between $30 million and $40 million to build. The study did not determine a cost, but did say that money to pay for capital costs could come from about $2.4 million in annual profits and arena generated tax revenue.

Knapp said the arena could be explored as a public-private partnership.

The Stadium Authority, acting on a request from the county’s Department of Economic Development, commissioned Sage Policy Group of Baltimore for the study in November. The stadium authority, the county and the state Department of Business and Economic Development paid for the study.

Calls to the Stadium Authority and the Montgomery County Conference and Visitors Bureau were not returned.