Mayor vows to pursue Memorial Stadium site plan unless NFL changes mind Stadium Authority urges patience

September 29, 1992|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writer

Baltimore's Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke says the city will move ahead with plans to redevelop the Memorial Stadium site unless the NFL changes its position on expansion later this fall.

The National Football League recently announced that it wouldn't name two expansion teams next month as planned. The announcement came after the league lost an antitrust suit over its free-agency system.

Meanwhile, residents who live near the stadium are pressuring the mayor to redevelop the site as quickly as possible. And the Maryland Stadium Authority is counting on city-owned Memorial Stadium to be in place at least until 1995, so that a new football team could play home games there while a new downtown football stadium was built.

"We won't change our plans. We will look at it later in the fall, and if there appears to be no change at all in the NFL's plans, we will move forward," said Mr. Schmoke -- who is being squeezed by the conflicting interests of the residents and the stadium authority.

Asked whether he is concerned that his posture could hurt the city's chances for landing an NFL expansion team, Mr. Schmoke said: "There are a lot of concerns that have to be weighed. One is having standing an unused stadium. . . . That has an impact on the quality of life in the surrounding neighborhoods."

Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said the mayor's position should not immediately hurt efforts to land a team in Baltimore.

"In my opinion, the mayor is not going to go ahead with demolition as long as expansion is viable and on track," Mr. Belgrad said. "If they put expansion on the back burner indefinitely, he may be inclined to try and proceed with development and demolition."

Moreover, Mr. Belgrad said, it was his understanding that no developers have expressed an interest in the Memorial Stadium property. Also, Mr. Belgrad said, he considers the NFL's delay on expansion only temporary.

"I anticipate we will have an opportunity to address expansion at the October [NFL] meeting from a procedural standpoint," he said. "I think the owners will act in March to select two cities or give us a firm date and put expansion back on schedule."

Originally, NFL officials had said they would name two expansion teams by the end of the year to play in 1994. Instead, the verdict in the antitrust suit created confusion over when expansion would occur -- if at all.

Now, it's unlikely the league will stick to its original timetable of getting two expansion teams on the field for the 1994 season.

But league officials left open the possibility that the NFL still could expand by 1994 if it quickly resolves its labor situation.

Mr. Belgrad reiterated that the stadium authority has asked the city to wait until 1995 to make a decision on Memorial Stadium. At that time, Mr. Belgrad said, the authority "would work to get funds from the General Assembly" for demolition of the stadium.

"Demolition could be very expensive," Mr. Belgrad said. "It could cost between $5 million and $10 million."

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