The Maryland Stadium Authority and a group of local developers are set to clash in city Circuit Court on April 1 in a dispute over the purchase price of the B&O warehouse.
But, in a move to settle the case, before it goes to trial, Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan, the court's administrative judge, is to listen to arguments from both sides in February and issue a non-binding decision.
Kaplan said February's "mini-trial" would give the stadium authority and the developers a chance to air their positions before a neutral third party.
"Everybody will have a reasonable idea of where the case will end up," Kaplan said. "It is a much looser procedure than a jury trial."
The stadium authority and the developers have been bickering over the purchase price of the 430,000-square-foot building for more than a year.
The authority, which has condemned the site to build a new baseball stadium, is offering $11 million, but the developers -- Harbor Exchange Limited Partnership -- are seeking $17 million, authority officials say.
The partnership purchased the warehouse from the B&O Railroad Co. in 1983 for $4.6 million. The developers had said they intended to renovate it for office space, but the state designated it for a new sports complex two years later.
The partnership includes developer Morton J. Macks and construction magnate Willard Hackerman, a political ally and financial backer of Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
The April jury trial is to take place before Judge Hilary Caplan and is expected to last six weeks, a source said.
The state has hired Frank Birch, of the law firm Piper and Marbury to represent the stadium authority.
The warehouse has been included in the design of the new 46,000-seat baseball stadium in Camden Yards to serve as an outfield landmark and a relic of the area that was once an industrial hub.
When completed, the northern half of the building is to contain office space, a posh stadium club overlooking the playing field, ticket offices, souvenir shops and a public cafeteria. Renovations are estimated to cost $10 million, authority officials have said.
The southern half of the building may contain offices for the Maryland Highway Administration, but the authority has refused to release a $43,000 consultant's report on lease options for that portion of the building.
The condemnation suit was filed in September 1989 and since then the authority has increased its offer for the building by $1 million. The agency has completed three appraisals of the property and made public only two.