Warehouse 'awkward,' trial told Stadium-site dispute heard in "mini-trial."

April 11, 1991|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Evening Sun Staff

The long, narrow B&O warehouse next to the city's new Camden Yards baseball stadium is an "awkward" site for offices, according to court testimony from a real estate consultant hired by the Maryland Stadium Authority.

James B. McComb, a consultant from Minneapolis who has been retained by the authority to bolster its case for a lower price for the historic building, testified yesterday in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

The Stadium Authority is trying to prove that the previous owners' plans for retail and office space in the building were not financially sound, even though the authority plans to use the warehouse for the Oriole offices as well as its own.

The authority and Harbor Exchange Inc., which owned the warehouse until the state condemned it, have been engaged in a bitter, 2 1/2 -year dispute over the price of the building. Harbor Exchange wants $18 million for the property. The authority says $7.5 million is a fair price.

McComb, who was hired in February and is to be paid $30,000 for his work, testified yesterday that the warehouse is "not well vTC suited" for retail or office space because of its low ceilings and narrow corridors.

But Bruce Hoffman, the authority's executive director, said office space for the Orioles would not be awkward because the team has only 100 employees.

The testimony occurred during a "mini-trial" being held before Circuit Court Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan.

The procedure -- the first of its kind in Maryland -- aims to settle the issue without having to try the case before a jury, which could take two months, Kaplan said.

Shale D. Stiller, the attorney for Harbor Exchange, said a jury trial could cost each side $1 million.

The mini-trial will allow 24 hours of testimony, 12 hours from the authority and 12 hours from Harbor Exchange.

Kaplan is to issue an advisory judgment Tuesday. If the two sides reject it, a final negotiating session will be held April 17. If the two sides still can't agree, a jury trial will be scheduled.

Harbor Exchange principals Morton Macks and Willard Hackerman purchased the building in 1983 for $4.6 million.

McComb said the location and shape of the 51-foot by 1,116-foot warehouse makes it an unlikely candidate for a retail outlet.

In contrast, Macks testified that he envisioned the warehouse as the perfect site for a retail center and office complex because it is "the southern gateway to the city."

The mini-trial is expected to end Monday.

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