Sports arena eyed for three sites in the upcounty

Feasibility study under way; upcounty sites floated as possible locations

Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2006

The owner of the Maryland Nighthawks professional basketball team says he has investors ready to help fund a new sports and entertainment arena in Montgomery County.

Three upcounty sites have been mentioned as potential locations for a 7,000- to 12,000-seat facility, but officials are quick to point out that a study of the proposal is in its very early stages and will include what such a facility might look like, not where it would be.

The Maryland Stadium Authority, acting on a request from the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development, has commissioned the feasibility study.

The department and the state Department of Business and Economic Development will each contribute up to $50,000 for the study, said David W. Edgerley, director of economic development in the county.

The study will explore a number of items, including market viability; stadium design, seating and parking; and event programming options such as basketball, ice shows, concerts and graduations, Edgerley said.

After the study is completed — in December or January — Edgerley said state and local officials will review it and ‘‘see if there is an interest in forming a partnership to determine economic feasibility.”

Potomac resident Tom Doyle, president of the Maryland Nighthawks, an American Basketball Association team, said the stadium could cost between $30 million and $40 million to build. The Nighthawks currently play at Montgomery College-Rockville.

‘‘I’ve got private investors lined up ready to do this thing,” Doyle said Friday. ‘‘We’re about ready to go. In reality, this thing could be moving along next year into the following year.”

Doyle said he began researching what it would take to bring an arena to Montgomery County early last year.

After meeting with county development officials and the Maryland Stadium Authority on his ideas, Doyle was approached to form the Sports Council of Montgomery County in early 2006, he said.

Private investors and sports groups are interested in funding the arena, he said.

Doyle said arena funding would work best as a public-private partnership, with the county or state providing land or matching funds.

‘‘It’s not necessarily a county project at this point,” Edgerley said. ‘‘We’re just examining it. It may be the recommendation that we ask the state to take it on or that we ask a private partner to take it on.”

The council was formed in part to lobby for sports and recreation opportunities in a county that some say pours a majority of its resources into the arts.

‘‘We became so focused on the arts. All these dollars are being pushed there,” Doyle said. ‘‘I think you’re not serving the greater populace when you’re not supporting sports and recreation.”

Doyle said the council met a few times before group members collectively suggested they consider pushing for an arena.

‘‘[The lack of an arena] takes an awful lot of money out of the county. Not just to see the Wizards, to see Sesame on Ice or other ice shows,” Doyle said Friday. ‘‘One of the biggest factors is the whole graduation thing. It’s just obscene.”

Nearly all county high schools hold their graduation ceremonies outside of Montgomery County.

He said the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, which seats 6,000 to 8,000, is a good example of what Montgomery’s arena could look like.

But County Councilman Michael J. Knapp (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown said that the arena should have up to 12,000 seats.

‘‘If you’re going to do a facility and are going to do a real one, it’s got to be a 10,000- to 12,000-seat facility,” he said.

Knapp added that of the sites that have been mentioned as possibilities — the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg and the Germantown campus of Montgomery College — the college site interests him the most.

Knapp said he doesn’t believe ‘‘anyone seriously thinks” an arena should be at the SoccerPlex. ‘‘The more I think about it, the more I get excited about MC-Germantown,” Knapp said. ‘‘I think it’s certainly something this county should be looking at.”

Edgerley was quick to note that the feasibility study will not address possible locations.

‘‘Let me be brutally clear,” Edgerley said Thursday. ‘‘People are talking about sites — that is not part of the study. We are not doing a site study. We want to find out what this looks like before it would be placed. Site considerations, while fun to talk about, are not part of the work being done at this point.”