The city of Laurel prides itself on its small town charm and historic areas, but during the 1980s and 1990s, multiple sports owners made plans to build stadiums there. Fortunately for Laurel— and the region— it didn’t become home to all of the region’s professional sports teams.
Early 1980’s: Three teams, one dome
In 1981 the Baltimore Colts and Orioles were playing in an outdated Memorial Stadium. Originally constructed in 1922 and later renovated in the 1950’s, the stadium had outlived its useful life and both teams were looking for a new home.
Forty miles south was RFK Stadium where the Washington Football Team was locked into one of the worst leases in the league, at least from the team’s perspective, as almost all of the money that now goes to teams was going to the DC government.
Team owners hatched an idea to build a $125 million domed stadium halfway between Baltimore and DC, adjacent to the Laurel Park Race Track. Combining the two cities would create the 4th-largest TV market in the country.
The proposal, however, came at a time when the trend of shared professional stadiums was about to start being replaced by more lucrative single sport stadiums throughout the country. In Minnesota, for example, a similar stadium (the Metrodome) was built to house professional baseball and football teams. Within a decade of opening the baseball team was suing to get out of their lease based on the lack of profitability by the shared stadium.
Plans for the shared stadium were halted when the Colts owner, Robert Irsay, reached an agreement with the City of Indianapolis for a dome of his own. Fearing they would lose their last professional team, Baltimore began negotiations with the Orioles that would lead to the construction of their current stadium, Camden Yards.
Early 1990’s: Capitals and Bullets (Wizards) look at Laurel
Abe Pollin, the owner of the Washington Bullets (now the Wizards) and Capitals, also had toyed with the notion of putting a team in Laurel when he was looking for a site for the Capital Centre in the 1970’s. He ultimately chose Landover for his arena to house his NHL and NBA team that opened in 1973, but in the 1990’s he began to look again at the idea of placing a team in Laurel.
The Bullets had a built-in Baltimore fan base since they had played in the city for a decade prior to the opening of the Capital Centre. But the flaw in Pollin’s plan is that it came at a time when sports stadiums were being moved from the suburbs into city centers to spur economic growth and revitalization.
The proposed arena would be located in a largely suburban area and only served by MARC. Fortunately for DC, nothing came from the flirtation with Laurel, and the MCI Center (now Verizon Center) served as the catalyst for revitalizing Chinatown neighborhood.
In 2002, the Capital Centre was demolished and replaced with a new mall called the Boulevard at Capital Centre.
1993: The Washington Football Team tries to unite two cities
In 1993, the Washington Football Team’s billionaire owner, Jack Kent Cooke, began looking at Laurel again as a possible stadium site. With the Colts in Indianapolis, Washington’s team would have two markets’ worth of fans if it were closer to Baltimore.
The challenge the team faced was that in the decade since it last looked at Laurel, the area around the proposed stadium location had been developed, leaving less than 100 acres for the new stadium. In order to cram as many cars onto the site as possible. the team proposed making spaces smaller and removing most of the greenery around the stadium.
Laurel’s stadium would have gone here, between the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and I-95. Image from Google Maps.
The stadium site was also located outside of the reach of Metro and only served by MARC. As a result this would lead to massive congestion at the site on gameday, a problem that would have taken $186 million in infrastructure improvements to solve.
Despite these drastic measures, the team still fell well short of the number of parking spaces the county required, and neither the team nor the state was willing to pick up the transit costs. Despite the project having the backing of the governor, County Zoning Official Robert Wilcox effectively killed the project calling the team’s data “high selective and self-serving” while the impact of traffic was “vastly understated”.
In this case, Laurel escaped a would-be traffic nightmare.
Without a stadium, Laurel emerged victorious
Stadiums represent massive expenditures from both public and private funds. While they can mean the opportunity for teams owners, municipalities, and states to be successful, it’s good that none of these ideas came to fruition.
The three team stadium would have failed because it would have been built at the tail end of the era of shared stadiums, dooming it to a fate similar to that of the Metrodome: a relic financed with state funds looking to be replaced shortly after opening.
The would-be Capitals and WIzards arena, which would have gone up in the early 1990’s, would have come at a time when suburban arenas fell out of favor in comparison to those that were reinvigorating downtowns throughout the county.
And the Washington Football Team’s proposed stadium in 1993 would have been a nightmare for local traffic as the team would try to cram a stadium on half of the needed land.
Not building any of these proposed stadiums was a win for Laurel.