Boucher recalls Camden idea began with Rosenbloom, Hoffberger

John Steadman

April 17, 1992|By John Steadman

Seeing the new downtown baseball park in operation brings elation to Bill Boucher, who turns back the pages to another time frame, when Baltimore had two major-league sports franchises and the team owners, Jerry Hoffberger and Carroll Rosenbloom, were talking to each other -- before their friendship became past-tense.

How the scenario began: It was 1970 and Hoffberger and Rosenbloom met with Boucher, then executive director of the Greater Baltimore Committee, about building an all-purpose stadium at the Camden Railroad Yards . . . on the same property selected almost two decades later for the location of a baseball-only facility. Their plan was to do it with private financing.

"I remember when Jerry showed up with a fellow in an open sport-shirt, a gimpy walk and introduced me to Bill Veeck," recalls Boucher.

"It was then I learned Veeck and Jerry had been talking about adding to downtown Baltimore the exciting concept of a stadium

and entertainment center in and around the Camden Station area."

Rosenbloom, owner of the Colts, and Hoffberger, who owned the Orioles, had even engaged an architect from Tampa, one Bo McMillen, to provide a conceptual rendering of the railroad area. The Greater Baltimore Committee, with Boucher leading the parade, was strongly involved.

Then the matter was taken to Gov. Marvin Mandel, a rare politician in that he truly understood sports. When Boucher introduced the proposal, he was told it was exciting and Mandel established a Maryland Sports Complex Authority, headed by Don McPhail.

A consultant was hired, who recommended a stadium, a convention center and a new hotel. "The convention center was built, the hotel is the Hyatt and now the park is open at Camden Yards," says Boucher -- 21 years after the concept was first talked about.

Baltimore, though, has a long record of procrastination, which is almost characteristic. The project was sidetracked at the General Assembly and didn't come into focus again until Edward Bennett Williams, who bought the Orioles from Hoffberger, threatened, ever so subtly, but effectively, to take the team somewhere else . . . that place being Washington.

Boucher believes, as do others, that Hyman Pressman, then city comptroller, caused a delay by helping produce a charter amendment prohibiting a sports facility from being built anywhere except on the location of Memorial Stadium.

What Boucher doesn't know is Gil Griggs, a civic leader, along with councilman Joe DiBlasi, organized a group that gathered enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot, which led to repeal of the earlier Pressman action.

After Williams took over the Orioles' ownership, Boucher remembers visiting with him and another attorney, Larry Lucchino, in the law office of Connelly & Williams.

"I was armed with drawings and statistics and traffic counts and all the other stuff you need to have when selling a project of this size," Boucher remembers. "I was overwhelmed by Mr. Williams' knowledge of Baltimore and the embryonic plans for developing the Inner Harbor. You must remember this was before Harborplace opened."

Boucher emphasizes the "star" of the whole undertaking is Herb Belgrad, who was appointed by Gov. Harry Hughes to head the authority and retained by Gov. William Donald Schaefer to complete the work.

Also, while handing out accolades, the effort of Henry Butta can't be denied. Butta preceded Belgrad and personally solicited the Baltimore business community, along with Chris Hartman, for financial contributions that would be utilized to pay for a survey that decided if Baltimore, indeed, needed a new stadium and then where it should be built. More than 20 possible sites in the metropolitan area were considered.

Camden Yards was high on the list but the preferred location was Spring Garden, located in the same general area, although a bit to the south. It would have been prohibitive, however, to move a network of huge tanks that were owned and operated by the Baltimore Gas & Electric Co.

Another area that received support in the study was Port Covington, the property the Sunpapers later bought for locating a new publishing plant. As for Boucher, it's exciting to review the genesis of what was to turn into the Camden Yards baseball park. It wasn't easy.

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