Schmoke, Clarke quarrel over CFL deal for stadium

February 17, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer Staff writer Ken Murray contributed to this article.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke clashed angrily with City Council President Mary Pat Clarke yesterday when she offered a Monday morning quarterback's view of his deal to entice a professional football team back to Baltimore.

In what could foreshadow the mayoral race next year, Mrs. Clarke accused the mayor of practically giving Memorial Stadium to the Canadian Football League without getting any concessions for the city. Mr. Schmoke shrugged off the criticism as cheap "political shots."

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

As television cameras surrounded her and city officials shifted uncomfortably in their chairs, she concluded, "Here, it's a dollar."

The mayor quickly retorted that Mrs. Clarke was just playing politics with the football deal. The franchise owner has agreed to renovate the aging Memorial Stadium, while the five-year agreement gives the city its first chance of making the stadium profitable again.

"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, who says she will challenge the mayor in 1995 and already is passing out bumper stickers, did not back down to the former high school quarterback.

The council president, who chairs the five-member board that approves city expenditures, maintained that she would not have chosen such a popular contract to lash out for political gain.

She argued that the lease was not tight enough.

The city should have held out for a share of the profits from refreshments, parking, television and radio spots as well as required free parking to protect the homeowners living near the stadium, she said.

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

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

Virginia businessman Jim Speros, who set up the franchise and negotiated the lease, also rebutted her charge yesterday that the city did not get a good deal.

"They laid the red carpet out for us, [but] our deal was not even close to what the NFL was going to get," Mr. Speros said in an interview after the meeting.

"We made some nice concessions because of what we're going to do. What the city wanted was somebody to step up and take over the stadium. We did that."

Mrs. Clarke made it clear from the start that she would vote for the lease that was eventually approved unanimously.

It allows the Canadian Football League exclusive use of the offices but does not prohibit other teams from playing at the stadium.

The team also will not compete with the Orioles' scheduled home games at Camden Yards.

In the first year, Mr. Speros' franchise will pay the city only $1. Depending on attendance, the city will receive from $5,000 to $7,500 for each of the 10 games played annually in the subsequent years.

The agreement calls for the city to be responsible for all structural and plumbing repairs, including fixing broken windows, burst pipes and damaged ceiling tiles.

However, it's still unclear who will underwrite an overhaul of the aging, 39-year-old stadium that is expected to cost as much as $3 million.

Mr. Speros said he received the $1 rental fee in return for promising to renovate the stadium, but refused to say exactly how much he planned to spend on the project.

At a work session before the board meeting, Mr. Schmoke said he understood the governor promised at least some financial support to Mr. Speros.

However, Gov. William Donald Schaefer is intent on his quest to woo a National Football League franchise back to Baltimore and is not pledging specific aid for renovating Memorial Stadium until afterward, his spokeswoman said.

The city has agreed to nothing so far beyond the basic repairs, according to Mr. Schmoke's spokesman, Clinton R. Coleman.

Mrs. Clarke, who objected that she had not received the paperwork until 8:15 a.m. yesterday, said it was too late to resolve some of the problems she found with the lease. However, she said she hoped that the mayor would work out free parking with Mr. Speros.

Mr. Schmoke became visibly annoyed by her comments that it was a sweetheart deal.

"We're doing something here that's really good for the city," he argued.

"We can take our shots at each other over the next 570 days."

The bottom line, he said, 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 the city's finances.

Mrs. Clarke agreed that the deal was important to bolster the city's image, but made clear that, while she was in favor of the lease, it could have been arranged better.

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

City Solicitor Neal M. Janey, who also sits on the board, flushed under the attack.

In his office, he said, "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."

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