Can Speros hand off bill for stadium renovations?

February 16, 1994|By Ken Murray and John W. Frece | Ken Murray and John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writers

Jim Speros finally got a lease yesterday to put a Canadian Football League expansion team in Memorial Stadium. Now the question is, who will pay for renovations that may run as much as $3 million or more?

There were no ready answers at City Hall, where Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke signed a five-year lease to bring pro football back to Baltimore, or in Annapolis, where Gov. William Donald Schaefer hedged on state funding.

Schaefer said the arrival of a CFL team in Baltimore would have no impact on the city's efforts to lure an NFL team to a sports complex at Camden Yards. Asked why not, Schaefer talked about funding for Memorial Stadium.

"I think a lot of improvements have to be made to Memorial Stadium," he said. "There is no evidence where the money is going to come from. The state right now has no commitment to do anything for Memorial Stadium.

"Memorial Stadium, I think, is in pretty good shape. It was not allowedto deteriorate. It was used for a football game a couple years ago.

"But the Canadian Football League has to modify the stadium. Where the money is going to come from, I just don't know. I guess the city is the one that signs the lease."

Schmoke said the city has not been asked to provide any money for renovations, and that there is no commitment of funding in the lease agreement. But he said he would be willing to make a contribution.

"I'm willing to go through the stadium, see what it will cost and then apportion it," he said.

Schmoke said Schaefer had previously "offered to help" with the renovations.

There have been prior indications of state support.

On Jan. 16, Speros, a Virginia businessman who is the lead investor in the CFL team, said he was told by Schmoke of the possibility of state money.

On Feb. 3, after meeting with Schaefer at the State House, Speros said, "It went very well. I was very comfortable and happy to hear from him that after the 15th, if there is no NFL team, he would get behind us and support us . . . and that the state of Maryland would help us to get that stadium to where it is a first-class facility."

It also was after that meeting that Page Boinest, Schaefer's press secretary, said, "From a practical standpoint, it appears there will have to be a state role" in stadium renovations.

Mark Wasserman, secretary of the state Department of Economic and Employment Development, pressed Schmoke on Monday about a financial commitment from the city.

"He said he thought we had refused to participate, and I told him we hadn't been asked [to make a contribution]," Schmoke said. "It wasn't that we refused."

Schmoke said the magnitude of the renovations depends on "whether you want a stadium that's a Chevrolet or a Cadillac . . . I remember what a great image it had all over the world with the All-Star Game at Camden Yards. I want it to look real good."

Speros said he sent a proposal on renovations to Wasserman on Friday. He estimated the cost of those renovations to be $3 million.

That would cover the field modification for the larger CFL dimensions, having seats repainted and renumbered, and improvements to the corridors, concession stands, offices, press box and one locker room. (The other locker room was updated for the filming of "Major League II" last fall.)

The proposal does not include a new sound system, which Speros said he believes is needed.

"It's a cosmetic face lift," Speros said. "I didn't ask the city for any money. And there's no commitment from the state."

Larry Ryckman, chairman of the CFL's expansion committee, said he didn't view the renovation issue as a stumbling block to getting the franchise approved today.

"Jim has got to make the place workable with his own money, city money or government money," Ryckman said. "I would really hope the city and government would chip in a bit. But it's not going to affect him being awarded a franchise."

Although terms of the lease were not announced, Speros said he will pay $50,000 a year in base rent on a sliding scale that goes up with attendance. The city also will get 10 percent in amusement tax on ticket sales.

And Schmoke said the lease has a non-exclusivity clause that would allow for an NFL team to play there until the Camden Yards facility could be built.

"If the NFL comes, it does not mean the CFL goes out," he said.

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