Residents near new stadium trying to be neighborly

March 25, 1992|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

A drained and dented can of National Bohemian beer lies in the 300 block of Penn St., not far from Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Commemorating Memorial Stadium -- that pile of bricks on 33rd Street the Baltimore Orioles left behind for Oriole Park -- the can says: "A season to remember . . . 1954-1991."

Alberta Day lives around the corner in a little Formstone rowhouse on Melvin Street, and the seasons she remembers go back to the early 1960s, back when her husband, Owen, was living, back when the couple enjoyed summer nights together at the ballpark.

Those memories just might get Mrs. Day out of her Ridgely's Delight home and across Russell Street to Camden Yards to see the Orioles play ball. She will do it, if the arthritis in her 87-year-old knees doesn't act up too badly, for Opening Day.

"I'm going to try and make it over there. I'm glad it's so close," said Mrs. Day as the people who live around the new stadium succumb to the anxiety and anticipation attendant to next month's opening game. "I hope it's something good."

For the residents of Ridgely's Delight, Federal Hill and Otterbein, the new downtown stadium is no longer a vision in William Donald Schaefer's mind, a drawing on a board or the target of a community task force.

It is here, and it is now.

And if they don't like it -- if they find that it is not something good -- they will have to suffer or move.

David Dimmock didn't want the stadium in his back yard and worked long, hard and in vain to keep it out.

An original Otterbein homesteader who renovated one of the city's first dollar homes in 1976, Mr. Dimmock doesn't want to live anywhere in the world but South Sharp Street.

But before he moves away over issues of parking, traffic and trash -- as several of his neighbors already did without hanging around for the first pitch -- Mr. Dimmock is going to wait out the first season.

"After we lost the battle to put the stadium to a referendum ballot [in 1987], I decided to accept it and see how it works out," said the 38-year-old Westinghouse employee.

"They've done a lot of things right in the construction phase. The place looks real good, even though we're convinced that putting a mammoth facility on top of everything else down here will choke the area. I'm not predisposed to hate this no matter what, but if it turns out to be impossible with traffic and parking and crowds in the neighborhood, I'd probably move out, too."

Some people say they moved to the area only to be close to major-league baseball, although most of those tend to be young renters.

"It's exciting," said Jeffrey M. Fine, 25, a college student who moved to Ridgely's Delight in November and intends to stay only long enough to graduate. "People a bit older probably wouldn't have made the move."

Sharon Reuter lives with her husband in the 600 block of Washington Blvd., and as secretary for the community association, she wants the older people and younger people to come and buy homes in Ridgely's Delight. She is hoping that the publicity surrounding baseball at Camden Yards will help her promote the quaint urban village just east of Pigtown.

"Who knows what's going to happen?" said Ms. Reuter, who moved to the neighborhood in 1986 without knowing where Camden Yards was. "There's been a ton of speculation about how it's going to be, from total panic to at least three or four baseball fans I know who moved in because of the stadium.

"Oh God, it's really exciting! You almost can't help but get excited about it. It's a beautiful stadium, and it's right at the end of the block. But it is a little scary, I guess, although there's less fear of the unknown the closer it gets to Opening Day.

"This is generally a safe and quiet neighborhood. Let's face it, those warehouses over there were no great shakes for this neighborhood before. I see it as a plus. I don't know squat about baseball, but I'm going to learn."

Anthony Imes doesn't care much for any sports outside of the Olympics, but he knows a lot about life along Russell Street, having spent all of his 34 years in the neighborhood just west of the busy highway, an area that once greeted northbound commuters as one of Baltimore's most glaring slums.

That was before people with dollars began rehabilitating rowhouses there, and before renaissance real estate agents rechristened it Ridgely's Delight.

Said Mr. Imes: "I never thought this would be home ground for a major stadium, or even rejuvenation. It's something I never believed could happen."

Mr. Imes said that when he was a kid "the neighborhood was in a state of disrepair. You could rent houses for $100 a month or less. It was all lower-working-class people and poor people, but it was coherent."

A graduate of Brown University who lives in the 600 block of S. Paca St., Mr. Imes watched his neighborhood go down from there.

"After the riots [of 1968], there was total disrepair. The neighborhood was literally derelict," he said. "On up through the '70s, there were just one or two houses on this street that weren't boarded up, and then in the '80s they were opened up and rehabilitated."

Mr. Imes said he misses some of the people he knew as a kid, people, he said, who couldn't afford to live in an old neighborhood with a new face. And he wondered "how we're going to assimilate all those people on these small streets -- 40,000 extra people."

For the last year or so he has watched longtime neighborhood bars dress up their image and change their names to things like "The Camden Pub" and "Strike Three," and he wonders just who will benefit from living in the shadow of America's newest major-league ballpark.

"I'm not sure the stadium is going to add stability to the neighborhood," he said. "But it's probably going to drive up property values, give us a parking crisis and make the bar owners wealthy."

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