“Privately financed” Baltimore arena would need public funds

So as you may recall, a 93-year-old Baltimore developer wants to build a new $500 million arena and hotel complex, alongside a $400 million convention center expansion that would be paid for by taxpayers. The arena/hotel, though, would be privately financed … except, now, for the bit where it wouldn’t actually be privately financed:

Donald C. Fry, CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said his group still hopes to secure the necessary funds to privately finance both the arena and the hotel at the corner of Charles and Conway streets. But Fry, whose group is leading the fundraising efforts for the project, acknowledged public dollars may be needed…

“There is no doubt it is going to require some city and state financial commitment for the entire project, and maybe even the arena possibly,” Fry said.

Still, it’s tough to argue with the fact that Baltimore needs a new arena, as the old one is 50 years old and is, er, the top-grossing arena in the U.S. for its size? But anyway, without a new arena Baltimore will surely lose the, um, I mean, won’t be able to lure a, wait a minute. Does anybody remember why Baltimore supposedly needs a new arena?

“They’re doing a remarkable job. We just wonder how much better SMG could be doing with a bigger-size” arena, [Visit Baltimore CEO Tom] Noonan said.

Now there’s a question worth $900 million to answer.

Baltimore to study $900m arena-convention-hotel project

We haven’t heard much about Baltimore’s plans for a new arena for a few years now, but that seems about to change: The Maryland Stadium Authority is about to conduct a feasibility study of a $900 million plan to build a new arena, a hotel on top of it, and an expanded Baltimore Convention Center.

Willard Hackerman, described by the Baltimore Sun as a “Baltimore construction magnate” (which will always make me think of Stringer Bell), has promised to finance the arena and hotel — or rather, to “engage in creating a private partnership that will privately finance the arena and the hotel,” which isn’t quite the same thing. It’s going to be interesting, to say the least, to see how Hackerman goes about raising private funds to build an arena with no anchor sports tenant, at least until such time that an NBA or NHL team can be identified to relocate there. Did I mention that Hackerman is 92 years old?

In any case, that still leaves the $400 million convention center cost, which as previously established is a ridiculous amount of money to spend on an expanded convention facility unless you’re Las Vegas or Orlando. (Editor’s note: Baltimore is not Las Vegas or Orlando.) Donald Fry, head of the business-run Greater Baltimore Committee that is pushing this plan, told the Sun (in the newspaper’s words) that “he believes the $400 million cost of expanding the convention center could be paid by the city or state or both, by issuing bonds.” Which is identical to telling your mortgage broker, “Sure, I can afford to pay for this house — I’m going to use the money I borrow from you!” Any J-school professors out there who can work on drumming it into budding journalists’ heads that bonds have to be paid off eventually? Please?

Anyway, once someone figures out who’ll pay the $150,000 cost, it looks like we’ll have another study to kick around soon. Which, given how the last Baltimore study turned out, is likely to involve a whole lot of kicking.