Stadium's cost barely exceeds original estimate Budget overrun of $1 million is "insignificant".

March 19, 1992|By Sandy Banisky and Mark Hyman | Sandy Banisky and Mark Hyman,Staff Writers

After a couple of redesigns and a budget revision or two, they said the price would be $105.4 million. And, give or take a million, they were just about right.

Three weeks before Opening Day, there are no surprises in the Maryland Stadium Authority's final cost estimates for the new Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

In June 1989, stadium authority officials gave the Maryland General Assembly its final cost estimate for building the 48,000-seat ballpark. When all the bills are paid, the construction price is expected to be $106.5 million, a difference even a budget watchdog as tough as Anne Arundel Sen. John A. Cade recently called "statistically insignificant."

How did they do it? A combination of careful planning and luck, according to Herbert J. Belgrad, stadium authority chairman, and Bruce H. Hoffman, its executive director.

The bad economy helped. The construction industry has been mired in a deep recession -- which means contractors, eager for business, pitched their bids low.

"We were very fortunate," said Mr. Hoffman, who oversaw construction of state hospitals in New York before joining the stadium project in 1989. "I would dare say there wasn't any contractor on any project who made a fat profit. I know that for a fact."

And he said they "tailored the work to hit the market." For instance, when they realized that small demolition contractors had fallen on particularly hard times, the stadium authority divided the job of razing buildings on the site into a series of small contracts.

"The economy was so terrible, people were doing anything they could to work," Mr. Hoffman said.

"While the public has suffered with the economy, we have been the beneficiaries," Mr. Belgrad said.

Even the weather cooperated. Three mild winters allowed excavation and construction to progress almost without a break. That kept the project on schedule and kept overtime costs under control.

But the project includes other costs, most of which were anticipated since the early planning. Some are obvious, some less so.

Clearly, someone had to build ramps from the highway into the new stadium parking lots. But it was less apparent at the project's start that building a new ballpark also would mean restoration of historic nearby Camden Station, at a cost of $2.6 million.

Among the other costs:

* $99.9 million to buy the 85-acre site, which includes land for parking 5,150 cars and, perhaps one day, a football stadium.

* $48.2 million for road improvements, including building access ramps into the stadium parking lot and resurfacing roads.

* $3.2 million to move railroad tracks, including MARC and CSX lines, that run alongside the adjacent B&O warehouse.

There's also interest on $155 million in revenue bonds sold by the stadium authority. The stadium authority will be paying interest on those bonds for 30 years. The total interest cost: $261.5 million.

The project is also being underwritten by proceeds from the state instant lottery.

Mr. Belgrad says these expenses were on the books from the start and were explained in repeated meetings with General Assembly committees.

"I am not suggesting that the finished ballpark costs $105.4 million. There clearly have been additional costs," Mr. Belgrad said. "They were anticipated. And they were included in the original projection presented to General Assembly."

Mr. Hoffman said the money spent outside the stadium itself was necessary to ensure that the project looks good and that fans aren't hassled getting there.

He also pointed out that the road repairs and mass transit improvements, including the new light-rail system, were not for ballpark traffic alone. Even without a new downtown stadium, he said, the city soon would have had to replace the Hamburg and Ostend street overpasses, both of which are included in the $48.2 million of city road improvements. Baltimore paid for the road work with federal highway funds.

The stadium authority spent some money on extra projects designed to bring extra revenues into the budget. Restoring Camden Station will be covered down the road if the building is leased to a private developer.

In the stadium itself, Mr. Hoffman said, the authority was careful to develop rooms that could be rented for private parties -- even weddings.

Calculating stadium costs always has been difficult.

In 1987, before anyone dreamed of the brickwork and archways and cast-iron finishes that grace Oriole Park, Mr. Belgrad told the legislature that a new downtown stadium would cost $78.4 million.

That amount would have paid for a no-frills ballpark, all concrete and high-tech angles. It was a ballpark the state and the Orioles agreed didn't look or feel like Baltimore.

They wanted a stadium that looked like a building, not a spaceship.

"The scope of the project changed entirely," said Mr. Belgrad, a former chairman of the State Ethics Commission. "The Stadium Authority made a conscious decision that the site was the gateway to Baltimore, the first major building that people driving into the city would see."

By June 1989, they had a new brick-and-steel design with a new price: $105.4 million.

Through it all, Mr. Belgrad and Mr. Hoffman have stayed popular with the politicians who lent strong support to the stadium effort -- and even a few who didn't.

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