Belgrad: Costs, NFL interest on rise

January 25, 1995|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Sun Staff Writer

Building a football stadium in downtown Baltimore may cost $20 million more than originally thought, but the state should continue seeking an NFL team and has been contacted by some interested franchises, Maryland Stadium Authority chairman Herbert J. Belgrad said yesterday.

Belgrad, appearing before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee in Annapolis, said he has been told by prospective ownership groups seeking a team for Baltimore that they are in contact with three teams.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos is "actively engaged" with three teams that have contacted him, and Robert Schulman, an attorney representing a group that includes former Denver Bronco Floyd Little, is talking with two teams, Belgrad testified.

"There is serious interest in bringing a team here," Belgrad said.

Facing another legislative debate over whether to deauthorize bonds and redistribute money collected for a downtown stadium, Belgrad told the sometimes skeptical lawmakers, "To deauthorize the bonding authority would convey the wrong message. It would convey to our opponents that they have succeeded."

Lawmakers quizzed Belgrad on the city's chances and reports that NFL leaders were against Baltimore, and asked if it made sense to continue the effort.

"It looks certainly to the fans that the powers-that-be don't like Baltimore very much, whatever the motivation," said state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, a Howard County Democrat.

Belgrad said that Gov. Parris Glendening has assured him he supports the NFL effort but wants to study the funding issue.

The stadium authority's experience with the Baltimore Convention Center expansion has led it to revise its cost estimates for the stadium from $165 million to $181 million. In addition, the state would have to spend another $10 million on property acquisition around the site and has offered prospective teams a $5 million upgrade of the former Colts training center at Owings Mills and a $1 million temporary modification to Oriole Park for the team to play there while its stadium is built.

The entire project would cost $197 million, excluding debt services.

Legislation now in place to pay for the project calls for bonds to be issued and paid back by stadium revenues and special lotteries, which are not drawing as much money as hoped. The stadium authority may have to request permission to change the frequency of the lotteries if a team signed a lease here.

Budget and Taxation Committee chairwoman Barbara Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat, predicted there would be an effort to deauthorize the stadium bonds this year, but said she did not think it would succeed.

"I think there will be an effort, and we will resist," Hoffman said. "You have to play the string out until you're done."

She said that the deauthorization would not save the state very much money and the bonding authority is not blocking other projects.

Meanwhile, Belgrad also told the committee that he has asked Glendening to find another chairman for the stadium authority, a job Belgrad has held for nine years. He said he is willing to continue serving during the transition, even if it lasts several months or a year.

"I strongly feel that the time has come to let a new person take over," Belgrad said. "As much fun as the job has been, there comes a time when a person should step aside."

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