Stadium authority gears up for construction in 30 months NFL approval steps up pressure to get design work done

February 10, 1996|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

The rush is on.

With less than 30 months to go before Baltimore's new football stadium is due to open at Camden Yards, state and city officials are scrambling to finish design work and start construction now that Art Modell has NFL approval to shift his team to Baltimore.

The state's timetable is considerably shorter than the 38 months took to clear land and build Oriole Park at Camden Yards -- a structure that cost less and has fewer seats. But planners say it's not an impossible task, because land for the $200 million football stadium is ready to build on, and all roads and bridges are in place.

The goal, everyone says, is to create a football stadium that is as distinctive, functional and well-received as Oriole Park was when it opened in 1992.

"We hit a home run with the Oriole Park," said Bruce Hoffman, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, the state agency in charge of the project. "We know we have to make this stadium as good as that one. Everyone feels the pressure."

The city will work closely with the stadium authority, city planning director Charles Graves said.

"It's absolutely a joint effort," Mr. Graves said. "We want to be sure that issues such as parking, lighting, environment and infrastructure are addressed, and that the stadium works well within the neighborhood context."

The state's timetable calls for construction of the Camden Yards football stadium to begin in mid-August and be complete by August 1998.

Mr. Hoffman said his agency is unable to pay architects to move ahead with design work until a comprehensive financing plan for the football stadium is approved by the General Assembly. A vote could come as early as next month.

In the meantime, Mr. Hoffman said, his office has been lining up community meetings, surveying football team employees, such as groundskeepers, and otherwise preparing so the effort can shift quickly into high gear when funds become available.

Today, he said, he is scheduled to meet with state Sen. George W. Della Jr. of South Baltimore and representatives from neighborhoods around the stadium to discuss the planning process and how the stadium will affect the area.

Mr. Graves said the city and state will appoint a community task force to work with the design team, just as they did with the baseball stadium.

Preliminary sketches

Among the issues to be resolved are:

* Final design: The lead designer is HOK Sport Facilities Group of Kansas City, the same firm that designed Oriole Park.

Three years ago, when the city was bidding for a National Football League expansion team, the architects released preliminary sketches. They showed a stadium that would be south of Oriole Park, with a traditional exterior of brick and precast stone, three seating levels -- but no dome. But those were just quick studies.

About a month ago, HOK resumed design work on the football stadium with the understanding that its staff would be paid once the General Assembly approved the funds. Architects are scheduled to present their preliminary plans to Baltimore's Architectural Review Board starting next month.

The stadium is not expected to have a dome -- a much-discussed feature that would help accommodate events other than football -- because the budget does not cover that. Mr. Hoffman said he would like the architects to explore the possibility of a stadium that could have a dome in the future if funds permit.

Seating for 70,000

The football stadium will be about 30 feet higher than Oriole Park, he said, because it will be closer to the harbor and contractors won't be able to sink it into the ground to the same extent they did with Oriole Park.

It will also seat far more people -- 70,000 as opposed to approximately 48,000 at Oriole Park. But many key design issues have not been resolved.

* Training camp: The team also wants to build a year-round training facility and team headquarters in Central Maryland. The project would include about 69,000 square feet of office space, four or five playing fields and related training facilities. It would cover 15 to 20 acres and cost $12 million to $15 million.

Feb. 16 is the deadline for Baltimore and surrounding counties to submit proposals for a training site. Mr. Hoffman said the team will pay for construction but would like the land to be donated.

Possible city sites

Possible city sites include privately owned land just south of the football stadium along the waterfront in south Baltimore; land now occupied by Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street; land south of Coldspring Lane near Coldspring New Town; and land now occupied by the Flag House Courts public housing project, which is already slated for demolition. The team would like to begin construction by the early summer and have it open for use in spring 1997.

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