Businesses wonder about condemnation A cloud: Owners of 4 sites in South Baltimore wait to see how stadium plans affect them.

November 08, 1995|By Kevin L. McQuaid | Kevin L. McQuaid,SUN STAFF

NFL fans haven't been the only ones anxiously awaiting a pro football team. For a group of businesses near the site of a planned $175 million stadium at Camden Yards -- including Hammerjacks, that bastion of teen spirit -- the past eight years have meant uncertainty.

The uncertainty stems from the cloud of condemnation that has hung over the businesses on South Howard Street ever since the Maryland Stadium Authority was granted the power by the state's General Assembly to purchase them for parking in the event a football stadium was built.

With the Cleveland Browns set to bring the National Football League back to Baltimore after an 11-year absence, business owners such as Herbert Greenbaum will finally end their own long waiting game, sell their businesses and move on.

Maybe. Now that the proposed 70,000-seat stadium -- contingent upon almost certain NFL and state Board of Public Works approval -- will become reality, the Stadium Authority says it may not need the land adjacent to the area south of Oriole Park where the new stadium will be built.

"We haven't focused on the issue of Hammerjacks or the other businesses at all," Alison Asti, the authority's general counsel, said after the Monday news conference announcing the Browns' planned move. "We plan to work together with the team to come up with a solution for parking, but at this point we're not sure what we're going to do."

Thus far, the authority is considering developing or using existing satellite lots to supply spaces lost by the construction, and it may rely on buses and other mass transit to get people to games instead of additional surface parking supplied by the businesses. An on-site, multi-deck parking garage is also being contemplated.

That's news to business owners like Mr. Greenbaum, who has counted on the authority to keep a promise to buy his kitchen and bathroom showroom business at 1201 S. Howard St.

"We've been told all along that if we get football we'd have to go," said Mr. Greenbaum, owner of Herbert Greenbaum & Associates Inc. "So we've been on pins and needles. If they don't take our property as they've said, then we'd probably take legal action. There would be hell to pay."

Robert S. Hillman, a Whiteford, Taylor & Preston partner representing Greenbaum & Associates, said Mr. Greenbaum had asked the authority several times to remove his building from the list of condemned properties and had been denied.

If the land at Howard and Ostend streets is not acquired, it would mean 800 fewer surface parking spaces, spaces that would have to be made up through other means. The construction of the football stadium will mean the loss of a few thousand spaces. According to its lease with the Orioles, the authority is required to provide 5,000 parking spaces at the Camden Yards property.

Cost will certainly be a major factor.

In 1987, when the state's General Assembly gave the Stadium Authority the power to condemn property belonging to four businesses -- Hammerjacks, Greenbaum & Associates, Lee Furniture Co. Inc. and Amotex Plastics Co. -- the authority had budgeted $10 million to acquire the land, said Edward E. Cline, the Stadium Authority's deputy director.

At the time, Hammerjacks' owner Lou Principio contested the figure, claiming the 1101 S. Howard St. nightclub and concert hall was worth between $6 million and $10 million alone.

Since then, Hammerjacks and Greenbaum say they have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to improve their businesses, upgrades that the owners say should be reflected in the authority's pricing.

In Mr. Greenbaum's case, he's invested $250,000 into the company's 70,000-square-foot showroom for a new conveyor system and improvements to the building's exterior. He believes the investment should increase the price from the $1.4 million the state originally offered.

Mr. Principio did not return several calls for comment, and representatives from the Lee Furniture warehouse at 1219 S. Howard St. and Amotex at 1123-1127 S. Howard St. could not be reached.

"Prices proposed more than eight years ago obviously will have to be re-evaluated, because the valuations done at that time are now worthless," said James J. Temple Jr., an attorney representing Hammerjacks. "The process will have to start all over again."

Mr. Temple said Hammerjacks is less concerned about being condemned than about being boxed in by the new stadium.

"If the street access is still there, there won't be a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth if Hammerjacks isn't condemned, because it's a viable, ongoing business," Mr. Temple said. "But the state could restrict us so much that in effect they take us without having to pay, and that's a concern, too."

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