Baseball center proposed for old Camden Station Ruth Museum, interactive center would occupy site

July 27, 1993|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff writer

Baltimore's historic Camden Station would become a sports lover's paradise -- the site of four baseball-related attractions -- under a proposal being prepared for the Maryland Stadium Authority.

The Babe Ruth Museum, Baltimore Orioles Museum, Maryland Baseball Hall of Fame and a newly formed Babe Ruth League Hall of Fame are among the proposed occupants of the baseball center envisioned for the former train station. The state-owned building is next to Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The preliminary plan calls for a year-round version of the interactive baseball museum and entertainment center that opened on the station's ground floor this year as a prelude to the All-Star Game.

It also would result in the complete refurbishing of the 1853 train station, whose exterior received a $2.2 million restoration as part of the ballpark construction but whose interior remains unfinished.

The idea is an expanded version of a $4 million proposal that the stadium authority received two years ago but did not accept.

The chief proponent of the latest concept is the Babe Ruth Museum, which has outgrown its current location on Emory Street. Directors there have been exploring expansion options for the past several years.

"The Babe Ruth Museum is interested in putting together a development proposal for Camden Station," said executive director Michael Gibbons. "We're in the middle of a study period right now."

The baseball center may be possible because of a change in plans of another development proposed for the area around the ballpark -- a $600 million medical trade mart and conference center.

In 1991, the stadium authority sought bids for Camden Station and awarded development rights to a group headed by Baltimore businessman Richard Swirnow, developer of the proposed complex, called the International Life Sciences Center.

State officials gave the group permission to negotiate exclusively for the air rights over the train tracks east of the ballpark for its project, which would include up to 2.5 million square feet of exhibit and meeting space and a 1,000 room hotel. According to a preliminary proposal to the state, the train station was to become a front door for the larger complex to the south.

Rights expired

The Swirnow team's exclusive negotiating rights for the state property expired Aug. 2 and were never formally renewed. According to state officials and representatives of the team, the developers still plan to construct the medical mart and remain interested in the station and the air rights over the tracks.

But the team is also looking at another downtown parcel, a two-block area bounded by Pratt, Paca, Camden and Howard streets.

The westernmost of the two blocks was reserved for construction of a new headquarters for the U.S. Health Care Financing Administration. But federal officials decided to build that project in Baltimore County, making the downtown property available for other uses. The easternmost block is owned by the city and is also available for development.

State officials say the medical mart team is interested in those blocks because they could support intensive development and are near the Baltimore Convention Center. In addition, development would not require the costly and time-consuming procedure of building an elaborate platform above the train tracks, while the trains are operating.

If the medical mart were shifted to the former HCFA site, they add, there would be less reason to link it with Camden Station.

Tom Marudas, a vice president of the group planning the medical mart, acknowledged that the team is studying the two-block parcel site as well as the air rights south of Camden Station. But he said he could not yet state whether the group still needs the station.

Still negotiating

Bruce Hoffman, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said his agency is still negotiating with Mr. Swirnow's group. Even though the exclusive negotiating period has elapsed, he said, the authority is committed to working with the medical mart team until the end of the 1993 baseball season.

But Mr. Hoffman said that he would like to have a firm plan for Camden Station by the end of the season so it won't be dormant. If the medical mart group can not demonstrate a need for Camden Station, he said, the stadium authority will consider other proposals.

Mr. Gibbons, executive director of the Babe Ruth Museum, said his group is moving quickly to prepare its proposal so it will be first in line in case Camden Station becomes available. "If the medical mart is not going to develop it," he said, "I guess plenty of others will want to."

Babe Ruth Museum

The Babe Ruth Museum occupies four rowhouses in the 200 block of Emory Street, including 216 Emory St., where George Herman Ruth was born on Feb. 6, 1895. Many consider the longtime New York Yankees slugger to be baseball's greatest star.

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