Stadium clears 1st of 2 hurdles Public Works OKs $200 million project for Browns deal

Republicans air objections

Money from Lottery is source of concern

November 16, 1995|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,SUN STAFF

One approval down. One to go.

Over the continued objections of Republican state legislators, Maryland's Democratic-controlled Board of Public Works yesterday gave swift and unanimous approval to a deal with the Cleveland Browns to build the team a $200 million, 70,000-seat football stadium in downtown Baltimore.

If NFL owners approve the move when they meet in January -- and barring any successful legal challenges -- the Cleveland Browns will become the Baltimore Browns and the first spade of earth for the new stadium could be turned as early as March.

"It's a very, very good investment," said Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

But Howard County Del. Robert L. Flanagan, the latest Republican lawmaker to complain about the stadium deal, reminded the three-member board that financing of the stadium construction depends on a level of revenue from lottery games that the state historically has not been able to achieve.

The preliminary financing plan for the stadium anticipates $20 million in lottery revenues in fiscal year 1996, $32 million in 1997 and $35 million in 1998 and 1999. But in the eight years that instant lottery games have been used to finance Oriole Park, revenues never have exceeded $26.7 million and have averaged just under $21 million.

"This deal will break the bank," Mr. Flanagan said. He predicted the project quickly could be as much as $42 million in the red -- a gap he said taxpayers then would be asked to fill.

Bruce H. Hoffman, executive director of the Maryland Stadium ++ Authority, acknowledged that lottery revenues would have to be increased to make the financing plan work. He said he had spoken with Lottery Director Lloyd W. Jones, who assured him, "If you need it, we'll get it."

Mr. Jones said yesterday he was uncertain whether the lottery can generate the required revenue from instant rub-off games alone. He said he has asked the attorney general whether the more lucrative Lotto or Keno games could be substituted.

The 1987 legislation authorized the state to create two to four special "sports lotteries" to finance the Camden Yards twin-stadium complex. The law, however, does not specify the type of games that must be used, said Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Israel.

Mr. Jones said a variation of Keno, the electronic numbers game played every five minutes at bars and restaurants around the state, is already in the works and perhaps could be marketed with a sports theme. Or, he said, tickets for the state's mid-week Lotto drawing could be earmarked for the stadium.

"I don't know why we wouldn't be able to make the $30-some million, but we haven't really analyzed it yet," he said.

Mr. Hoffman told the board that the Maryland Stadium Authority has estimated the project will generate $123 million in "economic activity" and produce the equivalent of 1,430 full-time jobs.

The Browns would play their first two years in Memorial Stadium while the new Camden Yards arena is being built.

"The team must play all its games in this new facility, once it is completed, for 30 years," Hoffman said. "And there is no way they cannot do this. . . . They cannot get out of this lease."

Critics such as Mr. Flanagan ask why any team would want to. The state will pay the entire cost of the stadium (unless it exceeds $200 million, in which case the Browns would have to pick up the difference), and the Browns will pay no rent. The team, however, must cover the cost of operating and maintaining the stadium.

Mr. Hoffman said he expected the football stadium to be used for 10 to 15 non-football events a year, the profits from which would be split between the state and the Browns. He said the project is expected to generate $17 million a year in sales taxes and $2.5 million a year in ticket admission taxes.

State Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein suggested that a dome be added so the stadium could be used for more non-football events. Mr. Hoffman said that would add $100 million to the cost and even more if the dome were retractable.

He said, however, that in the preliminary design, planners will determine whether it makes sense to build extra-sturdy concrete supports in case money became available to add a dome.

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