Good call, bad call Even in fiscal crunch, lay off all talk that a new ballpark wasn't needed

Ken Rosenthal

October 04, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

People still don't get it. The state faces a $450 million deficit, and it's building a $105.4 million ballpark? Don't need it, people say. Don't want it. Don't like it.

Now the state is ready to fire 1,766 employees as Memorial Stadium prepares its final bow. People insist on putting two and two together, ignoring the fact they come up with five.

Forget the facts, cling to the past.

Stop it. Once and for all, stop it.

Not only was the new park necessary for the Orioles to remain iBaltimore, it was financed at virtually no expense to taxpayers. Does anyone remember? Does anyone care?

Everyone loves the old place, but enough complaining about thnew one -- you know, good old whatchamacallit, named in the Late Compromise of 1991.

BThis is for all those who still don't get it. With apologies to "A Chorus Line," kiss today goodbye, and point me toward tomorrow.

Tomorrow, when the Orioles move into a park destined to become the Fenway of the next generation. Tomorrow, when the city and state reap the economic rewards. Tomorrow, when it all proves worthwhile.

The park is the right idea -- for the fans, for the team, for thregion. In fact, it's already boosting the local economy at virtually no cost to the average taxpayer.

We're not talking '80s excess.

We're talking '90s progress.

One more time, let's review the financing -- which is designed talso support construction of a new football stadium, a requirement if the city is to land an NFL expansion team.

For those who care to remember, the General Assembly rejected any tax increase for the complex. Instead, it authorized the Maryland Stadium Authority to raise funds by selling bonds to private investors, collecting half the proceeds from a new Instant Sports Lottery and tapping other revenue sources.

The authority also receives $1 million annually from the city, buthat money is returned almost immediately. Every worker at the new park pays income and consumer taxes. At the moment the project employs 750. With football, the total could exceed 4,000.

Eventually, the entire complex is expected to pay for itself -once the authority inherits the Orioles' lease from the city, once it starts drawing revenue from its own parking lots, once it fully develops the Camden Yards area.

The long-range economic impact?

It's staggering, for all involved.

Because the new ballpark is downtown, its spinoff on nearby retail stores, restaurants and hotels should be far greater than Memorial Stadium's. If a football stadium is built, the projected economic impact of the complex is $1.2 billion in its first 15 years.

That translates to more jobs and greater tax revenues -- money that could then be put toward genuine priorities. Education and social services. Transportation and saving the Chesapeake.

We're not talking about a sports complex, but aeconomic-development tool. Sort of like the Inner Harbor, which also met bitter resistance before leading to the city's rebirth.

But people still don't get it.

They curse late Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams forefusing to sign a long-term lease without a new ballpark. They forget that he could have rejected any form of agreement, ensuring his family the highest possible return under the terms of his estate.

PD Rather than sell to the highest bidder, Williams signed on for 15years shortly before his death in August 1988. The ballpark is part of his legacy. Not only will it provide fans with cozier seating and better sightlines, it will help the club realize long-term financial stability.

The Orioles expect to generate an additional $5-10 million a yeafrom luxury boxes, club lounges and premium seating, features that don't exist at Memorial Stadium. The money could help make the team more competitive, if it's put toward better players.

That's a big if, and another story. But those who insist the teashould remain on 33rd Street are the sporting equivalent of ordinary citizens who demand lower taxes but the same government services. Never mind reality, they'd rather complain.

Everyone loves Memorial Stadium, but it isn't the first old ballpark to suffer this fate, and it won't be the last. In fact, of the current major-league stadiums, only six existed before Memorial opened in 1954.

Two of those, Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, are institutions. A third, Yankee Stadium, has undergone renovations. But in Detroit, Cleveland and Milwaukee, new stadiums are in the planning stages.

The reasons are always the same, but the results are not. Noevery park gets built without tax money. Not every park spurs the local economy. Not every park is an architectural wonder.

This one did. This one will. This one is. Give Memorial Stadium a big hug this weekend. Then kiss today goodbye, and be grateful for tomorrow.

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