Monorail is proposed to ease Camden Yards parking

August 02, 1991|By Edward Gunts

Visitors to Baltimore's new Camden Yards ballpark would be able to travel from the stadium to the Inner Harbor in 90 seconds by hopping aboard a futuristic people mover, if the Maryland Stadium Authority accepts a development proposal submitted last month.

VSL Corp., a California-based engineering and construction company affiliated with the giant Bouygues Group of France, has offered to finance, build and operate a $17 million, 3,700-foot-long monorail line that would connect Harborplace, the stadium and a 3,000-space stadium parking lot south of Hamburg Street.

When the people mover is built, VSL officials say, visitors could park their cars in the remote lot south of the new ballpark and travel to the Inner Harbor in 3 1/2 minutes -- far less than the half-hour it would take to walk.

Under a proposed profit-sharing arrangement between the Stadium Authority and VSL, the Stadium Authority would receive $70 million to $80 million over 25 years from increased use of the state-owned parking lots -- money that would help defray the costs of building and operating the $105 million stadium -- and would own the system outright at the end of 25 years.

According to its proposal, VSL would make its money largely by sharing in the profits from the state parking lot. It would also collect fees of about 25 cents per monorail passenger.

"The VSL monorail is being designed as an innovative and durable transit system with a service life in excess of 50 years," VSL officials said in their proposal. "Tourists to Baltimore will look at the monorail as a 'must' just like the aquarium and the Inner Harbor. Unlike an amusement park ride, the VSL monorail is a high-capacity transit system that provides an innovative and important center city link for thousands of daily motorists, [light rail], commuter rail and bus riders."

The idea was one of four submitted July 15 in response to a request by the Stadium Authority for development proposals, but details were not released until this week.

According to the developers, construction of the monorail would not prevent state officials from accepting other proposals they received, which included plans for a $600 million medically oriented conference center and trade mart, a $74 million to $90 million specialty office center, and a children's day-care center, restaurant and office complex.

VSL's people mover represents a revival of sorts of a people-mover system that was proposed for Pratt Street and other parts of Baltimore's central business district in the late 1970s but never funded.

Although VSL's line would be simpler than previously proposed systems, it also could be the beginning of a larger system around the Inner Harbor.

According to preliminary designs submitted by VSL, the route would include a 2,000-foot-long line above the median strip in the middle of Conway Street, linking Harborplace and the stadium, and a 1,700-foot-long line linking the stadium and the nearby Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) terminal with a 3,000-car parking lot south of Hamburg Street.

By giving passengers a way to move quickly from their cars to the stadium and the Inner Harbor, VSL officials say, the %o people-mover system would encourage more use of the Camden Yards parking lots not only during baseball games but also by people coming to the city on business or as tourists.

By using Conway Street as the east-west line, they say, the line would not alter the appearance of the city's main east-west boulevard, Pratt Street.

And if an NFL football stadium is built on the south parking lot, the people mover would be able to connect that stadium with the MARC line, the Convention Center, the Inner Harbor and other key points downtown. VSL would give the state $40 million to construct a 4,000-car parking garage to replace the surface spaces lost as a result of the football stadium construction, according to its proposal.

"The financial plan of the VSL proposal is based upon increased customer demand for 3,000 parking spaces below Hamburg Street during non-event periods, and creating demand for passenger travel between these parking lots, the ballpark area and the Inner Harbor," the proposal said.

"By the third year of operations, VSL projects that passengers traveling aboard the monorail will exceed 4 million annual trips and parking below Hamburg Street will exceed 900,000 autos per year. Over 25 years, net parking revenues from the proposal are estimated to yield . . . more than double what the Maryland Stadium Authority could realize without the people mover."

Bruce Hoffman, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said that he has formed a six-member panel to review all four proposals and recommend to the stadium authority which ones it ought to pursue. Members of the panel will meet in two weeks to discuss the proposals, Mr. Hoffman said.

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