Saunders: Oh, for a downtown sports arena

Staff WriterJanuary 29, 2011 

No matter what mean, nasty things one says about Charlotte and its leaders, at least they had the good sense to build their big arena downtown.

That's more than you can say for the Triangle's leaders.

With people from all over the world descending upon Raleigh and the eyes of the sports world focused on the region for the NHL All-Star game Sunday, the dumb decision made years ago to build the RBC Center out in the hinterlands appears even dumber.

True, current Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker wasn't in office then. Seeing how much he's done to boost downtown - the dude throws more parties than P. Diddy - it's unlikely he'd have joined in lockstep with the anti-downtown, anti-growth sentiment that prevailed then.

For All-Star weekend, the city is hosting a three-day NHL Fan Fair at the Convention Center and a two-day street fair.

Wouldn't it be great if fans could walk from there to the RBC Center?

Versus, the cable network that will air Sunday's game, is showing a commercial featuring hockey players skating through the streets of a downtown with skyscrapers and a gigantic arena in its midst. The ad begins with a narrator intoning, "There are nearly seven billion people on planet Earth."

Yeah, and when fans start the arduous trek to or from the arena, they're going to think all seven billion of them are on Interstate 40.

You reckon Versus - or Raleigh - can be sued when visitors arrive and strap on their skates en route to the arena, only to find that it's seven miles from downtown?

Canadian hockey teams are well-represented among the all-stars, which means many of their teams' fans may come down for the game. I called my French-speaking pal, Mad Man Pierre, to get the French word for boondocks. He said the word is cambrousse , and it is sure to be uttered by fans leaving the RBC Center in search of a meal, a bed, a party or a strip club.

Don't look at me like that: Everybody's not coming to see the Norman Rockwell art exhibit.

Several months ago I ran into Charlotte's former mayor, Harvey Gantt, a man who presided over much of that city's growth, and he reminded me of something unflattering I'd written about the Queen City.

"Sounds like you're jealous," he said with a sly smile.

Yeah, maybe a little bit. Mainly, though, we Triangle residents should be angry that Raleigh's leaders lacked the vision of Charlotte's, the vision to see things in 1997 as they could be in 2011.

You know how Charlotte recently stole Raleigh's only Fortune 500 company?

The least we could do is return the favor and steal an idea from Charlotte - the commonsensical idea of building an arena downtown.

Remember the former state legislator who famously quipped, "Charlotte ain't Mecca. Charlotte ain't Jerusalem"?

No, it's not, but at least Charlotte's leaders don't think it's Mayberry, either. or 919-836-2811

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