Concert pavilion sites pursued Cellar Door seeks to build amphitheater in suburban county

December 03, 1996|By Ronnie Greene and Mary Gail Hare | Ronnie Greene and Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Scott Wilson contributed to this article.

For the second time in just over two months, Baltimore's suburbs are being eyed as a home for a major arena.

In late September, the owner of the Baltimore Bandits hockey team announced plans for a 10,000-seat County Coliseum in southwestern Baltimore County.

And now, even as the coliseum scrambles to get its financing in order, a Virginia-based concert promoter is setting its sights on the suburbs.

Cellar Door Productions, aiming to build an 18,000- to 20,000-seat amphitheater, has scouted sites in Carroll, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties. Of those, the company appears most interested in state property in Sykesville in Carroll County.

Still, with potential community opposition looming in Carroll, Dave Williams, the company president, says he's "a long way from making a decision."

"All I can tell you is it all comes down to a user-friendly government, a user-friendly community," Williams said. "A community that wants you there.

"I don't want to go in to fight a war. If they don't want me there, I don't want to build."

As the County Coliseum proposal demonstrates, it's one thing to say you'll build an arena -- and another to actually get it built.

That plan stalled when Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger declined to free up county money to help get the $42 million complex built. Now Bandits owner Michael A. Caggiano is seeking private financing.

But to Cellar Door -- which brings such performers as R.E.M., David Bowie and Alanis Morissette to its Nissan Pavilion in Northern Virginia -- Baltimore's suburbs offer a market for an amphitheater with 7,500 to 10,000 seats under cover and the rest on a hill. The new facility could be competition for Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia.

"I think there's a market for it over there," Williams said. "You don't have any property big enough inside the city. It would be Baltimore County, Carroll, and I've actually looked at Anne Arundel County as well."

In Carroll, Cellar Door is interested in a 131-acre section of Springfield Hospital Center.

Williams describes the land and 14 unused, century-old buildings -- known as the Warfield Complex -- as "a lovely, lovely piece."

Yesterday, he said: "It's a very desirable site. I'm waiting to hear from them."

The Carroll County Department of Economic Development is projecting $1 million in annual entertainment taxes from an arena.

Still, Carroll officials have not generated community enthusiasm

for the project.

Residents are concerned about increased traffic on Route 32, a heavily traveled two-lane highway; providing police protection in jurisdiction that lacks a county police force; and the impact of loud music on the 400 patients at the center for the mentally ill.

Springfield is one of three central Maryland hospitals that the state may close by 2000.

Members of the Springfield Task Force, organized a year ago to help keep the hospital open, have criticized Carroll officials for negotiating with Cellar Door.

With its plans unsettled, Cellar Door officials have also scouted Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County.

"We had discussions a year ago with an organization looking for theater locations," said Robert L. Hannon, executive director of Baltimore County's Department of Economic Development. "But

that did not prove to find sites suitable."

Hannon added, "We are not doing anything currently with Cellar Door."

Williams acknowledges that nothing is on the front burner in Baltimore County.

But, "If Baltimore [County] has something for me to look at, I'd love to look at it."

In Anne Arundel, a Cellar Door representative has been looking at north county sites.

"We haven't come close enough to anything to start negotiating a deal," said Rosemary Duggins, director of marketing for Anne Arundel's Economic Development Corp. "But the file is still open."

Pub Date: 12/03/96

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