Sudden Death Playoff Pits Stadium Place vs. Opposition

by Laura Goren
       On January 25, the State Board of Public Works released $2.6 million in funding for the demolition of Memorial Stadium. This will—barring last-minute appeals by demolition opponents—clear the way for the development of Stadium Place, a project of the non-profit Govans Ecumenical Development Corporation (GEDCO) that includes affordable housing for the elderly, a community YMCA, and a health clinic.

       The Stadium Place plan, considered a national model, was selected for the site in 1999 over competing proposals and has already been approved by City planning officials. The City of Baltimore currently owns the 30-acre site, and has the right to determine its disposition.

       Political opposition to Stadium Place had grown during recent months, with State Comptroller William Donald Schaefer—one of the three voting members of the State Board of Public Works—urging that the stadium be preserved and expressing concern over the financial feasibility of Stadium Place.

       “It was infuriating when the Comptroller said we ‘don’t have the financing’,” said GEDCO executive director Julia Pierson. “Several lenders have made their giving contingent on the demolition being approved. We’re starting the process now of reaching out to funders who wanted to wait to see if the Stadium was demolished.”

       Ms. Pierson was also annoyed that Mr. Schaefer claimed Stadium Place would not generate tax revenue. “We’ve budgeted $400,000 a year for property taxes,” she pointed out. The YMCA will not have to pay taxes on its facility at the site because it will be serving everyone, regardless of ability to pay.

       The sudden-death playoff of the future of Stadium Place has been stressful, Ms. Pierson acknowleged, but she said, “One good thing to come out of this mess has been we now have name recognition,” she said.

       The stress isn’t over quite yet, however. After the Board of Estimates released demolition funding, Preservation Maryland and three residents of the Ednor Gardens community adjacent to the stadium filed an appeal on January 25 with the Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development, asking that the demolition permit issued to Potts & Callahan be rescinded. Jamie Hunt, Preservation Maryland’s development director, was quoted in The Sun on January 27 as saying, “It’s a building that can easily be renovated to accommodate new uses, along the lines of the [American] Can Company in Canton.”

       Meanwhile, Mr. Schaefer has written to Gov. Glendening, seeking another meeting of the Board of Public Works, at which he wants to discuss rescinding the demolition. Mr. Schaefer will bring to the table information he believes shows the stadium structure as it stands has worth, based on a sports architecture firm’s estimate that it would cost somewhere between $27 and $36 million to build a similar structure today.

       Ms. Pierson asserted that there would be no point in building Memorial Stadium all over again, so such financial estimates lack meaning. “I care about the stadium, too, but its useful life is over. It’s time to move on and heal,” she said. “There will be a memorial [to the stadium] on our site, and another one elsewhere.”

       She continued, “Two years ago at this time they had the opportunity to put forward a proposal to save the stadium. They couldn’t make their case. We’ve gone through a fair and equitable process. It’s really unfair [to continue the controversy]. We’re confident that we’ll win the [HCD administrative] appeal.” She expects that opponents will then go to the courts.

       Opposition to the project has also come from 43rd district Delegate Kenneth Montague, who urged that the site be used for development that could potentially yield more revenue for the City. Two other 43rd district legislators, Sen. Joan Carter Conway and Del. Michael V. Dobson, acceded to the wishes of the surrounding communities and supported the demolition.

       Stadium Place planners have promised the 43rd district legislative delegation that they will talk with Johns Hopkins University officials about the possibility of Hopkins using a part of the 30-acre site, probably the southeast corner, for some form of commercial development.

       Hopkins already owns the Eastern High School site directly across 33rd Street from Memorial Stadium. Renovations to turn that building into a high-technology facility are reportedly near completion. The Chronicle was unable to ascertain at press time how much real estate tax, if any, is assessed for this property.

       Stadium Place supporters include surrounding neighborhoods, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, The Episcopal Diocese of Baltimore, The Presbytery of Baltimore, and the Center for Poverty Solutions, among others.

       “It is our firm belief that [Stadium Place] will provide affordable and comfortable arrangements for many of the City’s seniors,” said Bishop Douglas Miles, past president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance when announcing the group’s backing of the project. “Stadium Place will provide job opportunities and greatly enhance the neighborhood where it is situated. Let all of Baltimore get behind this very workable project.”

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This story was published on January 31, 2001.