The Maryland Stadium Authority, preparing to argue in court over the price of the old Baltimore and Ohio railroad warehouse, released appraisals yesterday that dropped the worth of the building to $7.5 million or $8.7 million -- far less than the $18 million that its owners were seeking a year ago.
The owners -- Baltimore businessmen Morton Macks and Willard Hackerman -- rejected last year a Stadium Authority offer of $11 million for the warehouse, which will loom over the outfield of the Orioles' new Camden Yards ballpark.
That offer was $3.5 million more than the lower of two appraisals released yesterday -- meaning the authority was prepared to pay more in state money than later appraisals showed the warehouse to be worth.
But Robert Douglas, attorney for the Stadium Authority, said the $11 million figure would have saved the authority legal fees and court costs that will mount should the dispute come to trial.
If the two sides do not settle on a figure, the case will go to court in early March for a "mini-trial" before Baltimore Circuit Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan. If no agreement is reached during that three-day proceeding, the case will go to a jury April 1.
After hearing each side, a jury could decide any price it deems fit for the state to pay for the building.
Shale Stiller, attorney for Mr. Macks and Mr. Hackerman, called the Stadium Authority's new appraisals "very, very strange" yesterday.
"Fifteen months ago, [the Stadium Authority] had one for $15 million," Mr. Stiller said.
Yesterday, Stadium Authority officials conceded that an early appraisal had put the worth of the property at $13 million in 1989. But that figure was based on outdated estimates of the cost of renovating the building, according to Robert Douglas, an attorney representing the Stadium Authority.
Edward Cline, deputy director of the authority, said he did not recall any appraisal that put the worth of the warehouse at $15 million.
A partnership headed by Mr. Macks and Mr. Hackerman bought the sprawling warehouse Dec. 30, 1983, for $4.6 million, with plans to renovate it for use as a complex of factory outlet stores.
But the project had foundered by late 1986, when a gubernatorial panel announced it had selected Camden Yards as the site for a new baseball stadium.
In September 1989, the Stadium Authority offered the Macks-Hackerman partnership $10 million, a figure later revised to $11 million. When the warehouse owners refused that offer, the Stadium Authority moved under the state's property condemnation laws to take control of the building for public use and let a court settle the price dispute later.
The Stadium Authority commissioned a third round of appraisals, which were submitted in March and April of last year and released yesterday. Authority officials had refused to discuss the appraisals for months, saying they hoped to use them privately to reach a settlement.
But Bruce H. Hoffman, the Stadium Authority's executive director, and lawyers working for the authority decided to release the appraisals now, saying that a settlement appeared unlikely.
JDC Appraisal Services Inc. of Glen Burnie and Legg Mason Realty Group Inc. of Baltimore appraised the warehouse last spring at $7.5 million. Appraisal Partners Inc. of Silver Spring estimated the worth of the building at $8.7 million. Both figures will be introduced in court, Mr. Douglas said.
Mr. Stiller said his clients' appraisal of the property's worth would not be completed until later this month.
Now under renovation, the sprawling warehouse will house offices for the Orioles and the Stadium Authority as well as restaurants and exhibit spaces next to the new ballpark.