Stadium appraisal goes to court 3-day 'mini-trial' over purchase of warehouse begins.

April 10, 1991|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Evening Sun Staff

Armed with more than 440 exhibits and volumes of studies and construction plans, attorneys for the Maryland Stadium Authority and private developers have opened a bitter courtroom clash over the purchase price of the B&O warehouse at the Camden Yards baseball stadium site.

As the warehouse's outer walls were being sand-blasted for renovations scheduled to be completed by next April, a three-day "mini-trial" opened yesterday in Baltimore Circuit Court before Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan.

At issue is whether the authority should pay Harbor Exchange Inc. $18 million for the structure, as the owners want, or $7.5 million, as authority appraisers have advised.

When the mini-trial is finished, Kaplan will issue a non-binding opinion. If the parties cannot agree to his findings or negotiate their own settlement, the matter will go before a jury in May.

The two sides traded verbal jabs yesterday, with the owners' lawyers calling the stadium authority's attitude "ostrich-like" and the authority's lawyers portraying the owners as being too fickle.

The warehouse, built between 1889 and 1905, is 51 feet wide and 1,116 feet long.

It was retained by the authority as an outfield landmark for the new 47,000-seat stadium. The north end was redesigned to contain offices for the Orioles and the stadium authority as well as ticket outlets, a cafeteria, private party suites and a baseball museum. The renovation is expected to cost about $17 million and represents about 15 percent of the $105.4 million ballpark cost.

The southern half of the warehouse is expected to be leased for private development or renovated to hold new offices for the State Highway Administration.

The warehouse was bought by local construction magnate Willard Hackerman and developer Morton Macks from CSX Railroad in 1983 for $4.6 million. Their business entity is Harbor Exchange Inc.

In October 1989, the authority acquired the property through a condemnation proceeding because it could not agree with the owners on a purchase price.

The authority had offered $11 million for the building, but Harbor Exchange owners were seeking about $15 million. Since then, both sides have adjusted their appraisals.

In opening statements yesterday, attorneys for the authority charged that the highest price, based on the "best use" of the warehouse at the time of the condemnation, was $7.5 million.

The commercial zoning of the property and "limitations of an urban renewal plan" prompted an appraiser for the authority to conclude the best use of the warehouse was to raze it and eventually redevelop the site for office space.

Frank Burch, a private attorney hired by the authority, charged that Hackerman and Macks originally planned to turn the warehouse into a "quasi-retail" operation with discount outlets and offices for international trade located inside.

However, Burch said Hackerman and Macks continuously changed their plans for the warehouse based on availability of low-interest federal, state and local development grants for which they had applied.

Neither Hackerman, Macks nor their attorney, Shale Stiller, would comment on that charge, but a memorandum they filed with Kaplan described it as "simply wrong."

Stiller contended that Harbor Exchange was proceeding in good faith to develop the property until 1985. That is when "the first public mention of Camden Yards as a possible site for a new stadium" was made.

The news proved "devastating" in the effort to execute leases for the business, Stiller said.

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