Schmoke, Clarke skirmish over stadium lease for CFL

February 16, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich and Ken Murray | JoAnna Daemmrich and Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writers

City Council President Mary Pat Clarke skirmished with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke today, accusing him of practically giving Memorial Stadium to the Canadian Football League without getting any concessions for the city.

"Even the most nonprofit groups -- Head Start programs -- pay $6,000 or $7,000 a year to rent our schools and educate our kids," Mrs. Clarke said during a heated Board of Estimates meeting.

"Here," she continued, referring to a five-year agreement Mr. Schmoke signed yesterday to allow a CFL team to use Memorial Stadium, "it's a dollar."

The mayor quickly retorted that Mrs. Clarke was playing politics with his deal to bring pro football back to the city.

"The criticisms, in my view, sound more like your announcement that you're running for mayor," Mr. Schmoke said. "I think all of these are political shots."

Mrs. Clarke said that if she wanted to lash out at a contract for political gain, she would choose a less popular one than the agreement that is bringing a professional football team to Baltimore for the first time since the Colts abandoned the city a decade ago.

The council president, who chairs the five-member board that must approve all city expenditures, objected to several conditions of the agreement with the CFL. She argued that the city should have held out for a higher share of the profits. And she said the mayor should have required that free parking be provided to protect the surrounding neighborhood.

"This is trying to take something that's good and make it better for the neighborhood," she said.

Mr. Schmoke snapped, "It's electioneering."

Mrs. Clarke expressed concern in a work session earlier that the city would have to pay for repairs, including fixing broken windows and burst water pipes at the empty stadium on 33rd Street. She also questioned why the city was not sharing the profits from parking and concession stands.

The lease, which was later unanimously approved by the board, allows the Canadian Football League exclusive use of the offices but not of the stadium itself. The team also will not compete with the Orioles by playing during the baseball team's home games.

In the first year, the football franchise set up by Virginia businessman Jim Speros will pay the city only $1. Depending on attendance, the city will receive from $5,000 to $7,500 for each game played in the following years.

Mr. Schmoke said that "the bottom line" is that Baltimore is gaining both a football team and a tenant to take over the empty stadium that would otherwise remain a drain on city finances.

Mrs. Clarke agreed that the deal was important to bolster the city's image and bring an "appropriate activity back to the neighborhood." She

made clear that she was in favor of the lease, but said it could have been arranged better.

"Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy," she said at the end of the meeting.

To which a visibly annoyed city solicitor Neal M. Janey responded, "I think the mayor was right in calling her to task on what I thought was a cheap political shot and a slap in the face of the citizens of Baltimore."

Professional football, apparently having stepped today onto the political playing field in Baltimore, still must step onto the gridiron. That process was continuing.

The CFL was to formally approve Mr. Speros' franchise application later today during a cross-continent conference telephone call today.

Then what?

Training camp opens in mid-summer. The season starts in July and ends in late November with the Grey Cup, the league's championship game.

But the team still needs a nickname.

Although Mr. Speros had announced it would be the Colts, after the NFL team that abandoned Baltimore 10 years ago, he is reconsidering in the wake of a lawsuit threat by the National Football League.

Yesterday, Mayor Schmoke threw the city's support behind the Colt name.

"The name of the team is up to the owner," Mr. Schmoke said to Mr. Speros, "but we're ready to fight for the name Colts if you're ready to do it. A number of law firms have said they will donate the cost of legal fees."

That pronouncement drew loud cheers. Fans already have placed 25,000 reservations for tickets, according to team officials.

The team has a roster to fill, a coaching staff to complete and a marquee player to sign.

Don Matthews, coach of Baltimore's CFL entry, promised to hit the ground running once formalities are out of the way.

"As soon as we all get together, as soon as the press conference [tomorrow] is done, we'll be talking about players," Mr. Matthews said yesterday from Regina, Saskatchewan, where he coached the Saskatchewan Roughriders the last three seasons. "Then we'll be contacting players."

Once the franchise is awarded, Mr. Speros will file his own negotiation list of 52 prospective players with the CFL office. The list is confidential, but Mr. Speros said the name at the top will be quarterback Tracy Ham, 30, a seven-year CFL veteran, and, more importantly, a free agent as of midnight.

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