Lively 'urban waterfront' could set stadium apart Middle Branch site to blend nature with city life NFL: THE FINAL COUNTDOWN

October 26, 1993|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

While Baltimore waits to find out whether the city will get a National Football League franchise, Christopher Rogers is thinking about birds.

Ring-necked pheasants. Black-crowned night herons. Snowy egrets. Living in the mud flats along the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River, the birds would be visible from a waterfront park that would be created near a new Camden Yards football stadium.

As a field representative of the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit group in Washington that helps conserve land for public use, Mr. Rogers believes the large but relatively underused body of water just south of the stadium property is the "identifying element" that could make the project unique.

"The Middle Branch could do the same thing for the football stadium that the B&O Warehouse does for Oriole Park at Camden Yards," he said. "To have 70,000 people spill out of the stadium into an urban waterfront that has been reclaimed for public use -- that would really set it apart."

NFL team owners are meeting in Chicago today to decide which two cities will get a franchise from among the five vying for one: Baltimore; St. Louis; Charlotte, N.C.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Memphis, Tenn.

Mr. Rogers is part of a broad contingent of planners, environmentalists, public officials and others who have begun preparations to make sure that if the NFL does pick Baltimore, the city will benefit as much as possible from the $150 million stadium to be built for the team.

They believe the stadium can be combined with other projects to bring the south end of Camden Yards alive with activity year round, not just 10 dates during the fall.

They envision an 85-acre, two-stadium complex that would be a major recreational and civic amenity for the region.

Some believe the area between the stadiums would be a natural staging site for festivals and other events that have been left without a home by the pending demolition of Festival Hall.

Others see it as a way to increase ridership on the state's light-rail system, which would add a stop near the football stadium.

Many regard it as a new civic gateway that would add luster to Baltimore's Renaissance image.

"It can be another draw for the Inner Harbor. It'll open up a whole new section of the city. It fits in with the new convention center, the light rail, everything," said Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

"The Middle Branch concept really appeals to us," said Bruce Hoffman, Maryland Stadium Authority executive director. "It would be wonderful if people could look out from the stadium and see water and not wrecked refrigerators and junked cars."

Football plans

The proposed construction site is a 40-acre parking lot bounded roughly by Hamburg, Russell and Ostend streets and by the state's light-rail and MARC lines. Its center is half a mile south of Oriole Park and less than 1,000 feet from the Middle Branch shoreline.

Conceptual plans prepared by Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum's Sports Facilities Group call for a facility with 70,000 seats, including 108 private suites and 7,500 club seats. They indicate the stadium will be open to the air with a grass field, rather than a dome with synthetic turf. It most likely will be oriented east-west, with its main entrance to the north, facing downtown and the bulk of the surface parking.

Renderings prepared to help sell club seats show a brick and glass stadium with arches and metal truss work similar to that of Oriole Park. But designers say those quick studies may not reflect what will be built.

The final design has not been set because the state law that funded the stadium with lottery-backed bonds prohibits spending money for detailed design work until a team is awarded, Mr. Hoffman explained.

Surrounding property

Planners say the football stadium is not likely to attract much commercial development, because the area is too far from the central business district and mostly industrial. Neighbors include waste treatment plant, gas storage tanks and train tracks that would remain.

But the new stadium could dovetail with other key aspects of the city's 20-year strategy for guiding development.

Foremost among them is the goal of encouraging more public use of the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River, which is fed by the Gwynns Falls. With six miles of shoreline and a 416-acre water surface, it is 20 times the size of the Inner Harbor.

Since the mid-1970s, planners have been working to transform the Middle Branch into a recreational amenity of regional significance. The proximity of the new stadium, they say, could accelerate that effort.

"That's the greatest area," Mr. Schaefer said. "It can be used for all sorts of things -- crabbing, fishing, wildlife conservation. It has enormous potential."

The Stadium Authority does not control any of the shoreline. But a consortium of city, state and private groups has been working to acquire certain parcels and make them available for public use.

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