Sweet sound of football at Memorial

January 05, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

Tractor pulls and rock concerts are still out at Memorial Stadium.

An item as curious as a Canadian Football League team might find a home there, though.

"My opinion as a fan is, I'd like to see 'em come -- if the circumstances are right," said Bill Cunningham, a resident of 36th Street near the stadium and a city councilman in the 3rd District.

Cunningham gave his endorsement yesterday with one qualification. His biggest concern, he said, is that the neighborhoods surrounding Memorial Stadium be protected from the scheduling of problematic events.

"We would have to put close control on the uses," he said. "The big issues are tractor pulls and rock concerts.

"Memorial Stadium is a sports stadium, and always has been a sports stadium. The neighborhood has done a lot of work to make it a pleasant environment. The problem is with non-sports activities."

James L. Speros, a Virginia businessman who wants to bring a CFL expansion team to Baltimore for the 1994 season, has submitted a five-year lease proposal to the city under which he would operate the stadium. Until the city determines whether it can bring an NFL team back, it will not act on the proposal, though.

Speros says his plans call for the possibility of college and high school football and some charitable events at the stadium, but not for tractorpulls or rock concerts.

He said his lease proposal dictates that any non-sports event at the stadium will require approval by the city council and the neighborhood association.

"We're looking to do sporting events like the Howard-Morgan football game," he said. "We want to bring back the city [scholastic] championship game, and possibly in the future, maybe even attract a bowl game or a major college game. We'd also like to do charitable events and have camps for kids."

Speros is scheduled to meet with the Baltimore Development Corporation and the Memorial Stadium task force next week to review his plans.

Michael Seipp, vice president of the BDC, said he thinks Speros' proposal makes financial sense for the city.

"We think it's positive having the stadium used and renovated, and having people in there full time," Seipp said.

"It puts 30,000 people in the stands for 10 dates a year, buying concessions. That's a great deal for the city. But there are a number of issues to be worked out. Issues like police, sanitation, parking."

Martin O'Malley is another councilman from the 3rd District who said he likes the idea of embracing the CFL. In the absence of an NFL team, "I'm all for the CFL coming here," he said.

"I don't anticipate any objections to it from the neighborhood. People like seeing the stadium used and maintained. The fear is that it will not be used, will crumble and be one more thing we can't take care of."

Alex Clunus, for one, needs to be convinced that a football team is the cure-all for a vacant stadium. Clunus lives on Ellerslie Avenue, a few houses off 33rd Street.

"It sits there depressing and empty," he said. "I don't think a football team will solve the problem. It will still fundamentally be that [a vacant stadium]."

Clunus said he is concerned about the prospect of large football crowds invading the neighborhood. "When baseball was there, I found minimal problems . . . A football team has to come with a whole bundle of provisions, recognizing this is not a football stadium on the edge of town or in a neutral part of town like Camden Yards, but it's smack up against where people live. I'd like to see some commitments from the owner of the team."

Speros, a native of Potomac and co-founder of Champions Development Corp., said he is ready to do just that.

"I'm going to make a total commitment as far as being involved," he said. "We'll be there 365 days a year. We want to put our offices in the stadium. And I've volunteered my own services to the city -- I've been involved in 300 million square feet of office and research development space.

"I want those people to have a voice. I'll be on the task force for them, and I want the head of the task force to sit with us. I think we'll be good for the community."

Bob Keilbar, a board member and past president of the Better Waverly Community Organization, said he believes the CFL would be good for Memorial Stadium. "It could be used, rather than sit like a white elephant," he said.

"Memorial Stadium is like a landmark in the community. The only way I want to see it torn down is if we've expired all options to use the stadium.

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