Skyboxes at Taxpayers' Expense?

February 14, 1991

The more we learn about the State Highway Administration plan to construct an eight-story office building next to the historic B&O warehouse in Camden Yards, the more the notion sounds like a plan to secure skyboxes for bureaucrats at taxpayers' expense.

Why else would the highway planners be so insistent that their new $18.5 million headquarters be built overlooking the new baseball stadium and nowhere else?

The whole plan is a strange one. The Orioles do not want the unscheduled new building, which would alter the ambience of the stadium's historic backdrop, the old brick warehouse. Janet Marie Smith, a vice president of the Orioles, quite accurately describes the addition as a "kissing cousin to the Constellation Center" -- that two-story monstrosity that blocks the view of one side of the Frigate Constellation in the Inner Harbor. "I think it's the same issue -- the idea of obstructing something that's historic," she says.

To make the hastily concocted plan more palatable, the Maryland Stadium Authority argues that this building would be a money-maker. That is nothing but governmental double-talk.

The state-operated stadium authority would sell the land for the office addition to the Maryland Economic Development Corp. (another state agency) which in turn would construct the building and lease it to the highway administration (yet another state agency). This shuffling of checks and papers would amount to nothing more than creative bookkeeping -- at taxpayers' expense.

Maryland taxpayers would be served far better if the State Highway Administration looked for a new headquarters site elsewhere in the city. A prime lot at the new stadium is simply too valuable to be given to an agency that would not be paying for the land in real money or contributing to the property tax rolls.

Baltimore City Architectural Board member Phoebe Stanton was quite right when she observed, "Big pieces of downtown are derelict, while the stadium builds more and more. I don't think that's the right way to plan a city at all." Or a public sports stadium, either.

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