Gary sets new course for Schaefer Ex-governor to try to find private funds for recreational use

Golf, soccer, swimming pools

Panel will write legislation to set up a new agency

June 18, 1996|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

It may seem a job more for a gadfly than a governor.

But the man charged with creating Anne Arundel's new private recreation authority is none other than William Donald Schaefer, who as Baltimore's mayor in the mid-1980s salvaged the city's five scruffy golf courses by turning them over to a private company.

In Anne Arundel, he faces a different but no less challenging task. Schaefer, who will head a committee drafting legislation for the authority, is not being asked to save the county' one financially healthy golf course. He is being asked to find money in the private sector to build more golf links, soccer fields and swimming pools for a county unable to invest much public funds in amenities.

"He kind of cut a new path for this in Baltimore City -- he showed the public this can work," said County Executive John G. Gary, a Republican, as he named the 74-year-old Democrat to head a steering committee for the recreation agency yesterday. "At a time of tight budgets, when we can use other people's dollars to do something for the community we will certainly do it."

Partisan opposites, Schaefer and Gary nonetheless worked closely together while the former was governor and the latter an influential member of the House of Delegates Appropriations Committee. Gary cast a key vote for Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Schaefer's own monument to sports.

"He never embarrassed me by holding up my legislation," the former governor said.

Schaefer, who left the governor's office 18 months ago, will head a 22-member committee responsible for writing legislation establishing the nonprofit agency.

He brings with him two key players from Baltimore's push to privatize the city's money-losing golf courses a decade ago: Henry H. Miller, former chairman of the Baltimore Municipal Golf Corp., and Charles L. Benton Jr., who served as Schaefer's top financial adviser when Schaefer was mayor and governor.

Within three months, the committee is expected to bring the County Council a bill that outlines the agency's authority and a general indication of the projects it may undertake. One politically wry restriction already has been placed on the authority: no new stadiums. The rest is fair game.

"The opportunities in this county are tremendous," said Schaefer, who lives in Pasadena's Chestnut Hill Cove neighborhood.

Near the end of his tenure as mayor in the 1980s, Schaefer turned the city's five public golf courses over to a private company. Since then, the Baltimore Municipal Golf Corp. has spent $4.5 million improving the courses, turning annual losses into surpluses.

Recently, however, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has tried to channel money from the profitable venture into the city's lean general fund -- a fiscal maneuver Gary does not intend to make. The committee will consider whether to require the private agency to give at least $100,000 a year to the county's Recreation and Parks Department. Another private company runs Baltimore County's three public courses.

In Anne Arundel, Gary has advocated a private agency -- which would be known as "Recreational Revenue Authority" -- since his 1994 campaign.

Behind Gary's lobbying, the General Assembly passed a bill last session allowing the county to set up a nonprofit agency that could borrow money by issuing revenue bonds for new projects. Gary said a North County public swimming pool, similar to the Annapolis Swim Center, is a priority.

The agency would also run the Eisenhower Golf Course, allowing fees to be reinvested into funds. The course needs an estimated $150,000 in maintenance work.

Last year, the course ran a $100,000 surplus. But the money was placed in the general fund, leaving the course with patchy greens. The authority could issue bonds to help pay for a proposed course on Fort Smallwood Road. "The intent is to bring in private money to develop projects we cannot do with public funds," Gary said.

"I think we'll be able to do two to three times more than we can now."

Schaefer, who agreed to head the committee during a Gary fund-raiser earlier this year, said he is ready for a challenge more suited to his background. after less-than-rave reviews doomed radio and television talk shows. He is not, however, a golfer, having only swung a club played decades ago during the Maryland Bar Association's annual tournaments. "I know what it looks like," he said. "There's a club, a ball and a hole."

Pub Date: 6/18/96

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