Sklar says new stadium will cost much more than advertised

John Steadman

February 26, 1992|By John Steadman

Affixing a price tag on the new sports complex in downtown Baltimore is a subject that ranges substantially upward from $104 million. Or is it $205 million? Even $300 million and counting? Possibly.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who resisted any building plan for 10 years, flippantly used to tell inquiring reporters, "Tell Steadman to use his money to pay for it." That's all after the fact at this point because the facility is within six weeks of being opened and, for this reason, Steve Sklar is interested as a taxpayer, sports fan and former state official in knowing what it eventually is going to cost.

Sklar is not alone. "I want to emphasize I'm not a member of a protest group," he said. "I believe the media uses so many figures [that] we have lost focus. So I called up the Maryland Stadium Authority and asked to speak with its legal counsel. I was told the total is $205.5 million."

But that does not, in its entirety, include roads, alterations necessary for moving some utilities and other improvements aligned to the project.

Sklar has had a long association with the sports problems in Baltimore. As a former member of the state legislature, serving 3 1/2 terms, he headed a liaison committee that met with representatives of the major sports teams relative to improving their playing accommodations.

It's a matter of record, unlike in some other cities that have built new structures, that the team getting to use what is known as Oriole Park at Camden Yards, or OPACY, has not paid a portion of the construction and land acquisition. The Orioles are on a free ride, except for paying rent, and enjoy contemplating the move into a downtown park made available by public funds raised via the sale of bonds and financed through the sale of sports lottery tickets.

Sklar has the pulse of the sports-going public. "If you tell them it's costing $104 million they say, 'So what?' " he says facetiously. "And if you correct them by saying, no, the price is $205 million, they say, 'So, so what?' That tells you about the runaway enthusiasm of fans."

Since Sklar is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, he has more than a cursory understanding of what it's going to take to meet the monetary obligation.

It's his projection that ultimately the baseball park alone (not to mention a projected $114 million football stadium or around $200 million if it's domed) will come to $600 million after 30 years of meeting interest payments and paying back the bonds.

So it's all so ambiguous. High as the sky, so to speak. Legal fees alone reached over $600,000 to one firm. Since the stadium was civic related, some cheerleaders expected it to be pro bono. After all, Herb Belgrad, an attorney, works as chairman of the Stadium Authority on a gratis basis. He doesn't even get the celebrated dollar a year.

According to Sklar, the stadium expenditures need to be itemized so the public will know exactly what it's costing and how much has gone into the various aspects of the effort. Sklar, ironically, once was involved in earlier plans for a Baltimore stadium at Camden Yards.

"It was the mid-1970s, and Governor Marvin Mandel wanted to build a domed stadium", says Sklar. "I went to New Orleans and inspected the Superdome as it was being built. We could have had a replica for $110 million, with a guarantee against cost over-runs. Marvin was ready to go. Bill Boucher and the Greater Baltimore Committee, then as now, were behind it.

"But Hyman Pressman, the city comptroller, produced a referendum specifying a stadium could not be built on any location other than Memorial Stadium. This killed any chance and the bill wasn't introduced.

"Think how that changed history. A domed stadium would have meant we kept the Colts and had an all-purpose facility housing conventions and trade shows. We wouldn't have needed the Convention Center or Festival Hall and would have been located in Camden Yards, the central business district. And it would have been built for $110 million."

But that's what might have been. Sklar applauds that the new baseball park, with a football stadium to follow (providing the NFL awards a franchise), is soon to open on the same location selected 20 years ago . . . but at double, or is it going to be triple, the price.

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