Church coffeehouse leaving ballpark area

April 20, 1992|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

Oriole Park at Camden Yards has helped spawn many new businesses downtown, but it has also played a role in the closing of a more modest neighborhood gathering spot.

The organizer of the Friday night coffeehouse at Old Otterbein United Methodist Church, Sharp and Conway streets, has decided to close the operation permanently and move to a new location in Charles Village -- in part because of the new ballpark three blocks away.

The Rev. Douglas Fox, church minister and coordinator of the weekly coffeehouse, said he is shutting it down largely because he fears that the roar of the crowd at the ballpark will drown out the folk music concerts at the coffeehouse. He is also afraid that the traffic congestion and high demand for parking on game nights will make it difficult for the coffeehouse patrons to find spaces.

"I can't compete with the stadium," he said. "The hundreds of people who come to our concerts can't compete with the thousands of people who come to the stadium."

Edward Cline, deputy director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said he could not understand why the church would throw in the towel so early in the season. "There are only 13 Friday night games scheduled this year," he said. "That leaves a lot of weeks when they could still have it."

Other churches near the ballpark are attempting to schedule meetings and events around the Orioles' schedule for the first year, rather than cancel them altogether, Mr. Cline added.

Mr. Fox said it would be confusing to patrons if the coffeehouse were open only on Fridays when the Orioles aren't in town. "You'd be going from having a regular schedule to having concerts around the games," he said.

The minister said the church has tried to provide a smoke-free, alcohol-free setting where people can enjoy live folk music and socialize, and that its concerts draw up to 250 people at $7 apiece.

But he said that because the coffeehouse space is not air-conditioned, its windows must remain open at this time of year, meaning live musicians would compete with everything from the playing of the national anthem to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." The coffeehouse was closed Friday, the first time the Orioles played in Camden Yards on a Friday night.

The minister said another reason for closing the gathering place is that he has been reassigned to head two other churches in Baltimore, Waverly United Methodist Church and Wilson United Methodist Church. He said he will be leaving Otterbein in June and was able to work out an arrangement to reopen the coffeehouse in the fall at Wilson church, Charles Street and University Parkway.

Mr. Fox said he has not missed the irony of the fact that the coffeehouse, moving to escape the noise and congestion of the new stadium area, has found refuge near where Memorial Stadium now stands silent on Friday nights.

"It's a real strange twist," he said. "But it'll be a good location. A lot of our regulars live in the 21218 ZIP code area," which includes Charles Village.

Dating from 1785, Otterbein United Methodist is the oldest church in Baltimore and a cornerstone of the Otterbein neighborhood.

It is owned by the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, an organization that includes 700 churches in Maryland and the District of Columbia. The coffeehouse is operated by the Ecumenical Campus Ministry Inc., an outreach effort of Presbyterians, Methodists and the United Church of Christ. Operated from several locations since its founding in 1967, it has been at Otterbein for the past four years.

Mary Henn, a teacher from Catonsville and regular at the coffeehouse, said she began going to its concerts when it was in Mount Vernon, stayed with it when it moved to Otterbein in 1988 and will move with it again. "It might not always have the same charming location, but I expect the spirit to continue wherever it goes."

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