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$150M overhaul of Royal Farms Arena the latest downtown redevelopment

The main goal of the planned $150 million renovation of the Royal Farms Arena will be to modernize the building, according to Colin Tarbert, BDC’s president and CEO. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

The main goal of the planned $150 million renovation of the Royal Farms Arena will be to modernize the building, according to Colin Tarbert, BDC’s president and CEO. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

Baltimore is beginning negotiations regarding a potential $150 million renovation of Baltimore’s Royal Farms Arena, the Baltimore Development Corporation announced Wednesday.

Oak View Group, a Los Angeles-based sports and entertainment company, and the city will negotiate management and leasing terms of the city-owned property, which was first built in 1961.

OVG and its arena partners, Thirty Five Ventures, would finance the project. Thirty Five Ventures was founded by basketball star Kevin Durant, who grew up in Prince George’s County, and Rich Kleiman, Durant’s manager. Durant and Kleiman said in a statement that they were “thrilled” OVG had been chosen for the project, and that they were looking forward to bringing “myriad sports and entertainment opportunities to life in Baltimore.”

The main goal of the Royal Farms Arena renovation will be to modernize the building, according to Colin Tarbert, BDC’s president and CEO. The building’s actual infrastructure, including its concrete, its roof and the infrastructure of its concourse are still in good shape, he said, but what will need to be overhauled are things like the layout of the arena’s concourse, which is outdated.

The design plans are still very preliminary, Tarbert said, but some ideas include putting in premium seating, including suites for corporate events and even adding outdoor spaces and balconies.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott has approved the decision to move forward with this developer.

“Today, I’m pleased to have given BDC the go ahead to enter into final and exclusive negotiations with OVG, which is an important key step toward realizing the long-awaited transformation of the iconic and historic Baltimore Arena into a world-class entertainment venue,” said Mayor Brandon M. Scott. “The project will catalyze the reopening of Baltimore’s tourism and hospitality market and reposition Baltimore as a destination for top-tier national events and live entertainment.”

A timeline for the project has not yet been announced.

Both the BDC and the downtown business community are optimistic about how a redeveloped Royal Farms Arena will tie together other ongoing development projects in the area. Shelonda Stokes, president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, said she believes the arena will act as a center point for a number of projects, from the redevelopments of Lexington Market to the Superblock.

“It really gives our area a sort of walkable campus (feeling) … you’re walking from the arena to the convention center to the sports complex. It’s just such a great compliment,” she said.

The project will also help highlight Baltimore as an entertainment destination and hopefully make the city more appealing to larger and more in-demand acts. It’s in the Bromo Arts and Entertainment District and is surrounded by other entertainment offerings, such as the Hippodrome, Everyman Theatre and Le Mondo, all within a few blocks of one another.

In the past, the arena was a top-grossing venue both in North America and worldwide, peaking at the third highest-grossing venue worldwide in 2008, but it’s had less success in the past five years. Although the arena is the largest events venue in Baltimore, Tarbert worries that it has become a less welcoming venue than others in the city due to its outdated amenities.

“Hopefully we can basically bring the arena up to the level that the city deserves, which is a first-class arena,” he said. “And that will fit into a larger portfolio of other amazing venues.”

OVG and Thirty Five Ventures have committed to 45% minority and women-owned business participation during the construction, maintaining that rate as they operate the arena. At least 25% of the equity investment will be reserved for minority investors. General contractor Clark Construction, which is based in Bethesda, will prioritize hiring city residents for the project and will provide pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs.

OVG was one of three companies that responded to BDC’s request for proposals, which was put out in November of last year. Their past work includes the redevelopment and operation of a number of arenas across the country, such as Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, Washington, and UBS Arena in Belmont, New York. In Maryland, the company manages the Chesapeake Employers Insurance Arena, a sports and events venue on the campus of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

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