Reprieve for Memorial Stadium

February 23, 1994

The likelihood that a new Canadian Football League team will become the main tenant of Memorial Stadium is good news for neighboring residential communities and commercial enterprises.

When the Orioles flew the coop and moved to Camden Yards in April 1992, the plan was to wreck the four-decades-old stadium that honors Baltimoreans killed in the two world wars. Before demolition, however, it was decided to retain the concrete-and-brick structure for a few years so that it could be used by a possible National Football League team while a state-of-the-art playing facility was constructed at Camden Yards.

That foresight now seems to be paying off. While Baltimore's chances of acquiring an NFL team are rapidly waning, a ball club hoping to bring a CFL franchise here has leased Memorial Stadium for five years during a June-to-December season.

The lease agreement -- under which the Metropolitan Baltimore Football Club pays a first-year rent of $1 -- became a hot topic last week.

City Council President Mary Pat Clarke accused Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke of granting the club an unreasonably advantageous deal. The city should have held out for a share of the profits from refreshments, parking, television and radio coverages as well as required free parking to protect the homeowners living near the stadium, she said. Mr. Schmoke dismissed the criticism as "electioneering" by Mrs. Clarke, who is running for mayor.

As professional sports leases go, the initial CFL arrangement is not too generous. Before milking a new football team for whatever it's worth, let's make sure that it gets started and proves to be a viable business proposition. James L. Speros and other CFL investors are trying to introduce a brand new sports concept to Baltimore. If a sweetheart deal can help them succeed, so be it. If Canadian-type football catches on here, the city will have ample opportunities to reap more benefits.

Under the lease agreement, the stadium will be leased "as is." By June, the city will repair broken windows and damaged ceiling tiles in the team offices as well as repair burst water pipes. How other, more cosmetic improvements will be paid for remains a bit murky at this point.

Mayor Schmoke made it clear last week he does not want to commit any substantial city funds to refurbishing the stadium until a new team's viability and support among Baltimore fans are assured. This is a prudent attitude.

We are as happy about the possibility of a CFL team here as anybody else. But let's see them play first!

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