The streets start to fill up around 6:30 p.m. Carrying mitts, hats and binoculars, hordes of baseball fans make their way down Conway and Paca streets just as they used to pound the pavement along 33rd Street. And then the roars begin.
Since April, residents of Otterbein and Ridgely's Delight have been adjusting to life with a new, imposing neighbor, Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
But having a 48,000-seat stadium in their backyard isn't as intrusive as expected, say residents, including many who originally opposed it. It has even provided some advantages.
When Art Parks, a resident of Ridgely's Delight, learned of plans to build the ballpark, he worried about its impact on the middle-class neighborhood that lies a baseball's throw west of the site. "I expected traffic and parking to really be a mess, and that there would be people screaming in the streets all night long," he said.
But so far, the noise level is minimal, traffic clears out in about 25 minutes, and the parking situation actually has improved, says Mr. Parks. In pre-stadium days, cars that didn't belong in the neighborhood often sat around for weeks. Now, those cars are towed immediately, he says.
The stadium also is attracting residents for nearby neighborhoods.
A Western Maryland dentist, for example, recently bought a brick three-bedroom town house as a weekend home in Otterbein, which lies between the stadium and the Inner Harbor. The man and his young son are Orioles fanatics with season tickets and wanted to live within walking distance of home games.
"The man's in love with the Birds," said Lillian Conklin, the O'Conor, Piper & Flynn agent who handled the sale.
There hasn't been a rush to buy homes near the stadium. And home values have not climbed dramatically.
In Otterbein between Jan. 1 and July 1 this year, 11 residential properties changed hands, compared with seven in the same period last year, according to the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors.
During the first half of 1992, the average price of an Otterbein home was $167,522 when listed and $157,659 when it changed hands. During the same period last year, the average home was listed at $179,185 and settled at $169,407.
In Ridgely's Delight only one home sold in the first half of 1992, two fewer than sold in the same period last year. The low number of sales makes price comparisons difficult.
Still, residents believe the stadium will help maintain property values.
A one-bedroom Dover Street house owned by Ron Signorino, president of Ridgely's Delight Association Inc., was recently appraised at $80,000 -- an increase of about 10 percent from its pre-stadium value. "There were feelings that there would be lower property values [because of the stadium], but the opposite has really happened," said Mr. Signorino, who led opposition to the ballpark when it was proposed.
Real estate agent Gary Suggars points to a two-bedroom house on Warner Street in Ridgely's Delight that sold in May for $82,500. That's nearly $10,000 more than it was purchased for in 1988 -- and $2,000 more than a larger house on the same street sold for last year, says Mr. Suggars, of the Charles Street office of Coldwell Banker residential real estate.
And Gordon Firstman, owner of a three-unit apartment building on Hanover and York streets in Otterbein, plans to raise rents to about $900 from $825 because the neighborhood "is commanding higher levels," he said. Planned improvements to the units also will justify the higher rents, he said.
But Mr. Firstman is disappointed that he has been unable to sell the building, which has been on the market for the past year at $240,000. "As far as the salability of the property is concerned, there has not been a great increment in value," he said.
Many residents of Otterbein and Ridgely's Delight find the increased activity in the neighborhood reassuring.
"When you have lots of people around, it deters people from breaking into cars," said Peter Maro, a 27-year-old Otterbein resident and orthodontics student who was working on the engine of his black Jeep one recent evening. "When it's always busy, the neighborhood is safer."
L The stadium's impact on neighborhoods wasn't left to chance.
According to Carol Salmon, assistant director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, "the whole design of the stadium was done in consideration of the neighborhoods. The lighting is focused on the field, so it doesn't spill out and shine into someone's window. The sound system is designed to be contained in the ballpark."
The Camden Yards Task Force, an umbrella organization of neighborhood groups, met frequently with the stadium authority, allowing community members to influence the stadium's design.