Orioles, city discuss change in stadium rent State, Schmoke weigh turning over control to Stadium Authority

August 28, 1991|By Michael Ollove and Mark Hyman

To assure that Memorial Stadium remains in major league condition while Baltimore tries to land a football franchise, the state has offered to take over management of the old ballpark sometime after the Orioles' last game.

The talks began several months ago but gained momentum last week when Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Maryland Stadium Authority Chairman Herbert J. Belgrad met to discuss plans for maintaining the stadium.

The condition of the ballpark -- and a city-owned football training facility in Owings Mills -- are important to the authority because they temporarily would be the home fields of a National Football League franchise in Baltimore if the city were awarded an expansion team. NFL owners are expected to select two new cities, whose teams would begin play in 1994, by next October.

"Since Memorial Stadium and the Owings Mills complex will have to be maintained for future use by an NFL team, we've asked the city to lease those facilities to the Stadium Authority," said Mr. Belgrad, who said the talks were at an early stage.

Absent an arrangement between the city and Stadium Authority, no provisions have been made for the maintenance and security of Memorial Stadium after the end of the year.

The city's annual budget for upkeep of the stadium is just over $1 million, down more than 40 percent from the previous year. City officials expect to exhaust that budget between Thanksgiving and Christmas, less than halfway through the city's fiscal year. Plans are under way to transfer the city's 19 employees assigned to the stadium to other sites before New Year's.

Although the Orioles are Memorial Stadium's sole tenants, the city maintains the stadium structure, contracts for post-game cleanup and provides security.

The unresolved matter of who will be taking care of Memorial Stadium is of keen interest to surrounding residents who have long worried about deterioration of the site after the Orioles' departure.

"We have not been informed of any plans," said K. C. Docie, president of the Waverly Improvement Association. "We have made the mayor's office aware that we are very concerned that trash be picked up, that the site is kept clean, that it not become a dumping ground."

Her concern is shared by BEDCO, the city agency charged with devising recommendations for the ultimate use of the Memorial Stadium site. "If it deteriorates, it takes away from market value of the site, not to mention the surrounding neighborhoods," said Sarah Trenary, a senior vice president at BEDCO. "The city needs to be able to provide plans and assurances that the building won't be allowed to go to pot."

Mayor Schmoke insisted that he would not allow the stadium to (( become a blight, even if no specific plan is yet in place to maintain it. "We've made the commitment to the community," Mr. Schmoke said. "We've also made the commitment to potential owners of an NFL team. We'll just have to come up with a creative way of doing it."

An arrangement with the Stadium Authority now seems the most likely possibility.

The issues under discussion between the authority and the city include when the Stadium Authority would take over management of the 53,371-seat stadium and how the ballpark might be used after the Orioles move to the new downtown ballpark at Camden Yards.

Mr. Belgrad said that the stadium authority might try to schedule various events in the stadium to offset maintenance and operating costs. Those costs haven't been estimated yet, according to Stadium Authority Executive Director Bruce H. Hoffman.

"We're not in the promotion business, but our purpose would be to use the stadium for enough events to cover our costs," said Mr. Belgrad, who added that any profits that might result from the Stadium Authority's management of the stadium would go to the city.

After the baseball season, only two events -- both involving football games -- are on the stadium calendar.

On Nov. 9, the University of Maryland is scheduled to play Penn State. A high school football doubleheader is scheduled at the stadium on Thanksgiving Day.

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