Slow down on stadium, critics urge Design complaints provoke suggestions to delay construction

'A tight timetable'

Ravens dismiss bid by key planners to alter schedule

June 12, 1996|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

Responding to criticism that the design of the Ravens' football stadium is being compromised by a rapid construction timetable, key city planners are pressing for changes and have even suggested delaying construction for a year to ensure a park equal in presence to Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The initiative, still in its early stages, could have significant economic consequences, not the least of which would be lost revenue for the Ravens.

A Ravens spokesman emphatically rejected the idea of a delay, as did the Maryland Stadium Authority. Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, both of whom would have major roles in a decision to delay construction, declined to speculate on timetables.

Those pushing for a reassessment say the stadium's design is so unimaginative and the building so important to the city that a radical effort -- including a delay in construction -- may be warranted to improve it.

A meeting will be held within the week for stadium designers, local architects, developers and planners to consider whether the design can be changed sufficiently within the construction schedule.

"The goal is to see if the design can be improved," said Baltimore Planning Director Charles C. Graves III, who is organizing the meeting. "I think we have to have that conversation with the Stadium Authority before we say yes or no on the possibility of a delay."

The idea surfaced in recent days at the Baltimore Development Corp. and among city planners after Architectural Review Board members and others criticized the designs presented by HOK, the Kansas City, Mo., firm that designed Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Expectations are high for the building, with its position at the city's southern gateway and as a companion to adjacent Camden Yards. Many say a one-year wait might not be unreasonable for a project so important. The state is contributing $200 million, and could apply leverage for a delay if it chose to. Groundbreaking is set for September.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany Democrat, said is worried "if the architectural world is concluding that the current design is no more or less than a cookie-cutter model of a run-of-the-mill stadium."

"If the quality of the final product is going to be jeopardized by the current schedule, then I would be inclined to believe we have too much to lose to settle for an inferior product."

No speculation

Glendening and Schmoke declined to take firm positions on the issue.

"The marching orders to the Stadium Authority are to meet our expectations on the quality of design and also to meet the deadline," Glendening said. As to a delay, he added, "I never speculate."

Schmoke said: "I wouldn't want to speculate on [a delay] until I heard from the Ravens and the Stadium Authority. If they felt a delay was necessary, we could accommodate them at Memorial Stadium and we would be happy to do it."

The team's contract with the Maryland Stadium Authority obligates the state to "use its best efforts to cause the football stadium to be substantially completed and ready for use" by the start of the 1998 season.

However, the contract adds, the project will take 32 months and noted that the state may not be able to meet that deadline.

Nevertheless, a delay "has not been considered and will not be considered because it's pretty much unnecessary," said John A. Moag Jr., chairman of the Stadium Authority. "This is a tight timetable, that is certain, but it is nothing that concerns us."

"There's no way," Ravens Vice President David Modell said of a )) delay. "Our deal called for us to go into the new stadium in 1998 and we have basically constructed our entire business around that."

A one-year delay would cost more than $30 million, according to the Stadium Authority: $16.5 million in ticket sales, $12 million for inflation and up to $5 million in extra pay to architects and contractors. It would require the Ravens to play a third year at Memorial Stadium, which is being renovated to play host to the team.

Complaints about the design rankle Bruce H. Hoffman, executive director of the Stadium Authority.

A delay, he said, "is not only radical, it's ridiculous."

"I would agree if I felt we were delivering a product that is unsatisfactory," he said. "But we've got the brightest and best architects who have done some of the best sports facilities in the country."

The plans are preliminary and few of the critics are familiar with them, Hoffman said.

The latest designs for the stadium will be unveiled at a Ravens news conference today and a more detailed presentation will come July 11, at the next meeting of the Architectural Review Board. "We haven't done any significant design for six weeks," Hoffman said.

Modell, however, said that the exterior appearance is not likely to change much. "I happen to like the exterior design and I have to think it's well along," he said.

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