The Orioles' opening day at Camden Yards is more than a year away, but already the new stadium is under attack: The State Highway Administration wants to build a multi-story office building at the south end of the old B&O warehouse.
When the city Architectural Review Board examines that hastily concocted plan today, it should turn a collective thumbs down on it. Not only would an addition alter the historic backdrop of the 47,000-seat stadium but it could compromise the design integrity of the whole ballpark, which already has won plaudits from architectural critics throughout the nation.
There are plenty of other reasons for our opposition as well.
When the new light-rail line is completed and the MARC commuter train service to Washington is upgraded, the stadium complex will have better mass-transit service than any other area in the city. Yet the chief reason the State Highway Administration is interested in the site is not public transportation but because the stadium would provide ample parking for hundreds of vehicles belonging to the administration and its employees.
Furthermore, allowing a state agency to gobble up a premium commercial site in the stadium area would make no economic sense because of lost tax benefits. Prime sites near the stadium should yield a maximum profit in cash and taxes and help spur revitalization, thereby welding the stadium area to Inner Harbor attractions and hotels. Even with its 1,200 employees, the highway bureaucracy would not be enough of an economic generator.
There are other parts of the city that could use the boost that such an influx of people would produce. The Inner Harbor East project, which will transform the whole waterfront south of Little Italy, is one possibility and its developer is interested in enticing the State Highway Administration. Port Covington, with its proximity to the interstate network, could be another.
The new stadium, because of its easy access from the growing suburbs between Baltimore and Washington, could well become a success that exceeds even the wildest expectations. But officials must take care to see that this location is used in ways that maximize the potential for economic development and renewal.