Monday, January 21, 2008

Does Montgomery County Need An Arena?

From Marc Korman:

A recent Gazette article offered an update on the proposed Montgomery County arena. Back in June, the Maryland Stadium Authority released a feasibility study on the proposed arena. The basic concept is to build an arena with a total capacity of 8,000 to 10,000 people, which is considered mid-sized. The arena has many proposed uses including traveling shows like circuses, minor league sports, and concerts. Does Montgomery County really need an arena?

The report anticipates growth of 764 new jobs, $6.6 million in annual wage income, $19 million in annual business sales, and $2.4 million in annual tax revenue. While the Gazette article says the arena is projected to generate $7.5 million a year for the county, this number is actually the expected revenue of the arena itself from ticket sales, concessions, naming rights, and so on. There is no guarantee the County itself will get any of this. If a new arena were to be built, it is projected to be somewhere in the Germantown area.

After reading the feasibility study back in June, I noticed two problems immediately. First, the study does not accurately survey competing venues because it does not include outdoor arenas and stadiums in its comparison study. While some events are either indoor or outdoor affairs, many could occur in either type of venue, such as concerts. This increases the competing venues to at least include Nissan Pavilion, Wolf Trap, and the Frederick Keys stadium. Second, the study does not include the projected cost of constructing a stadium and the cost of infrastructure improvements to support it.

Beyond these two specific faults in the study, there is the broader issue of whether a new arena is really the right course for the county at this time. Montgomery County has many needs. In the short term, there is a $400 million deficit to balance and the County is already working on a deal for a new performance venue in Silver Spring. In the longer term, many of us want to see some type of Purple Line constructed, infrastructure improvements made to accommodate the consolidated military hospital in Bethesda, and development of the Corridor Cities Transitway. The last of these, the Corridor Cities Transitway, should be a prerequisite for any major new arena in Germantown since any large County facility should have regular transit access.