City plan to sell Kirk Field opposed Community decries idea to use land for business

July 08, 1996|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

Herbert Naylor, 69, remembers when trumpets blared and football teams ran across Kirk Field, drawing hundreds of cheering fans. Folks used to line up at the corner concession stands for popcorn and hot dogs. And the air, he sighs deeply, smelled like honeysuckle.

But the sweet smells and sounds at the field along Exeter Hall and Kirk avenues are gone. Empty bottles and broken glass litter the stands. Graffiti cover the walls. The air reeks of trash and a decomposing dog.

And now the future of the 4-acre field is in dispute. Green Spring Dairy wants to buy it from the city school system, but neighbors don't want the business to expand, even though that could bring more jobs.

"I love this neighborhood because it's a peaceful place with picture-perfect rowhouses looking over the green grass of Kirk Field," said Willie Cheatum, who has lived on Kirk Avenue for more than 40 years. "This field is more than just grass, but a part of the community that has brought many people together.

"Gaining more jobs for people won't mean much when we're losing the field we love, which is devastating," said Cheatum, who wants to see the city clean the 41-year-old, former athletic field for neighborhood use.

The city, which will handle the sale of the field, is seeking proposals from potential developers until Aug. 1, according to Daniel P. Henson III, commissioner of the Department of Housing and Community Development. Henson said a plan will be chosen in September.

Green Spring prompted the call for proposals when it contacted the city in January about the property. It is not known what other businesses or developers may be interested.

Several residents and a community association are working on proposals, which include plans for cleaning the field and using it for a playground and sporting events. "It [Kirk Field] used to be the premier place of competition for track and field meets and football, but now it is not in use," Henson said. "Having nothing happen to it is no good for the community either, because it is just sitting there and decaying."

But neighbors in the Northeast Baltimore community have not let the field sit idle, despite the locks and ripped fencing around it.

Most mornings the cinder track becomes a meeting place for senior citizens to walk and the open space is a haven for children of Coldstream Park Elementary School, which borders the field. The nearby recreation center uses the field for baseball games.

For residents, the trash was not a part of the field's heyday.

"There was such a sense of competition at Kirk Field," said Ludwick Hayden, who set a hurdle record at the field in 1962. "It wasn't just any old city field used for just any event, but it was a place where the stands were full with eager onlookers, well-groomed grass and the walls and fences were always shining bright in fresh paint."

Kirk Field was developed in 1955 as an athletic facility for city school sporting events and activities. In 1994, the Stallions football team used the field to practice. The land is zoned for residential use, but that may change, city officials say, depending on the proposals.

For the dairy, the field is a prime spot for additional parking for its 10 1/2 -acre facility across the street. Within the next year, Green Spring plans to bring about 400 employees from the Cloverland Dairy on Monroe Street, which will close, to Green Spring's site on Loch Raven Boulevard, officials say.

But residents worry that increased traffic and noise will decrease property values and be a nuisance. They plan to fight it.

"There's houses around and a school, and putting trucks or any more traffic in this area is just a catastrophe," said Irene Dickerson, who has lived in the neighborhood for 34 years. "I don't care who the field belongs to, the school, city housing, or whoever, it's going to take the entire neighborhood to fight city hall and keep our field the way it is."

Pub Date: 7/08/96

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