Abe Pollin Revitalized Chinatown
Abe Pollin, owner of the Washington Wizards and Verizon Center and former owner of the Washington Capitals, died yesterday. Listening to local talk radio today, many people in the community are mourning his loss. (And, Michael Wilbon has an excellent remembrance of Pollin in today’s Washington Post.) Surprising, to me, their reflections did not focus on him as a person; the average fan did not know Abe Pollin as some ‘know’ Jerry Jones, for example. Rather, almost all the commentators I heard reflected on his contributions to the health of the city.
In the past year, scrutiny and criticism of businesspeople has increased in the midst of the global economic meltdown. In that context, it was surprising to hear a businessman praised precisely for being a good businessman.
Pollin brought two major professional sports teams to the Washington area, first to Landover, Maryland, and then into the city. Moving the Wizards and the Capitals into the MCI Center (now the Verizon Center) in Chinatown was especially noteworthy. For more than 30 years, that part of the city was nearly uninhabitable; most people would never think of getting off at the Chinatown Metro stop. Just 15 years ago, few people could have imagined a thriving, vibrant entertainment and shopping hub there. But Pollin imagined just that.
His vision carried the new arena from idea to groundbreaking to fruition to an anchor in a revitalized area of the city. Of the $260 million price tag for the arena, Pollin spent $200 million of his own money; the District only paid $60 million for some infrastructure improvements. Pollin needed certain things from the city to make the project work, but he did not hijack the taxpayers into shouldering the burden of it. The city has not better spent $60 million in a long time.
Of course, Pollin benefitted financially from the arena. But the city has too. Streets are far safer in Chinatown now; thriving businesses pay much more in taxes than the decrepit, limping-along businesses did. Millions of people have benefitted too, enjoying new store and restaurant options, a good downtown theatre, and sporting and other events held at a high-class arena.
These are the improvements that caused all the talk show callers to fondly remember a man they hardly knew.