To know the history of Baltimore’s Royal Farms Arena is to know how the facility has ably served a major market despite being undeniably obsolete. While a replacement has been eyed for decades, the venue that first opened in 1962 as the Baltimore Civic Center continues to plug along, attracting major concerts, shows, and performances to Baltimore.
When the Civic Center first opened in downtown Baltimore—on the site of Old Congress Hall—it was supposed to attract a third major sports team to the city, and provide a boost in the effort to modernize its surrounding area. The NBA’s Chicago Zephyrs relocated in 1963 to become the Baltimore Bullets, and while the Bullets did have success in their new city—including an Eastern Conference title in 1971—their stay in Baltimore proved to be short, as they moved to suburban Landover in 1973 and eventually became the Washington Bullets (now the Washington Wizards). Since the Bullets’ departure, Royal Farms Arena has been home to several professional franchises—including indoor soccer’s Baltimore Blast (Major Arena Soccer League)—but the city has not successfully courted an NBA or NHL team to replace the Bullets, even as nearby facilities Oriole Park at Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium opened in the 1990’s.
With a seating capacity that tops out at 14,000, Royal Farms Arena is a small venue that offers few modern amenities. It lacks a dedicated suite/club level, the lone videoboard is a small, four-sided screen that hangs over the floor, and concession offerings are limited to basic stadium fare.
The seating bowl is a fairly simple design, with three levels on each side and an upper deck on the arena’s north end. For Blast games, the south end is utilized for a small kid’s zone, merchandise, and an auction table.
Sports fans in the surrounding area should make an effort to check out a Blast game. Rather than try to compete with the Orioles or the Ravens, the Blast instead do a fine job of bringing the intimacy and small-town atmosphere found at minor league games to a major city.
On the ticket side, fans should look for seats in the 200 level. On the upper end of a split-level concourse from the 100 level, the 200 level’s higher elevation gives a better view for soccer and has fewer obstructions. Large portions of the 100 level are behind glass, sections of which have a negative effect on the sightlines for those sitting within the first few rows.
Those focused on access and nearby amenities will enjoy Royal Farms Arena, which is attached to a large parking deck and surrounded by several others. For pre- and post-game options, fans can get to the Inner Harbor or Harbor East within a short walk, and Pratt Street Ale House is about a five minute stroll from the arena.
Its premium location is a major reason why Royal Farms Arena still stands, and is able to pull in one major act after the other. Since the beginning of 2014, the venue has hosted concerts by the likes of Kanye West, Justin Timberlake, the Eagles, and other shows, including a performance from comedian Kevin Hart.
While its lack of modern amenities within could doom Royal Farms Arena’s financial viability in the future, the simple fact remains that no other venue in Baltimore can support large-scale, indoor events. That has been on the mind of elected officials and developers, groups that have by and large feared that an extensive overhaul of the arena could cost the city several years’ worth of performances. As a result, numerous proposals have called for an arena to be constructed elsewhere in downtown Baltimore.
Before the effects of the Great Recession hit the city, there was interest in a development that would have attached brand new arena to a renovated Baltimore Convention Center and a new hotel. Talks of a new arena stalled until January 2015, when a partnership consisting of local developers Cordish Companies and the Paterakis family unveiled an ambitious plan that called for a venue on the Inner Harbor at Piers 5 and 6. As part of a larger redevelopment package for the Inner Harbor, the arena would seat about 15,000 and include more modern amenities.
That plan has not gathered much steam publicly and, with a mayoral election slated for this year, both the private and public sectors could table arena talks for now. In the time being, Royal Farms Arena gives Baltimore a venue that offers little in terms of aesthetics or amenities, but is still capable of bringing major acts to the city.