Art group gets bumped from golf course site Former councilman's firm granted exclusive rights for minilinks from mayor

March 22, 1997|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Art Links Baltimore -- the artist-designed miniature golf course that made its celebrated debut at the Inner Harbor last May -- appears to have landed in the rough.

The attraction lost the space it had occupied last summer next to the Power Plant because of renovations of the building. The nonprofit downtown art gallery that conceived the idea of the course -- with holes replicating Baltimoreana from Fort McHenry to the face of William Donald Schaefer -- had hoped to be able to open this year on city-owned parkland at the harbor.

But yesterday, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke granted exclusive, 30-day negotiating rights for a miniature golf course at Rash Field to a company headed by former City Councilman Carl Stokes, leaving Maryland Art Place with no place to lay down its course, which has been packed in storage since fall.

"It makes no sense," said Jack Rasmussen, executive director of the West Saratoga Street gallery, which opened the course as a way to raise money and showcase the work of local artists. "I spent two years doing this project. They can't possibly build a course in two months that's going to compete with ours," he added.

Rasmussen said the decision left Maryland Art Place scrambling to find a new site for Art Links, which generated $45,000 of the gallery's $360,000 operating budget last year.

Alonza Williams, a spokesman for Schmoke, said the mayor thought the Stokes group "had the best proposal" to operate a miniature golf course on the site of a popular ice rink that is dismantled every spring.

"He can only give exclusive negotiating rights to one group," Williams said. "If it doesn't come through after 30 days, he'll look at another group."

Stokes, who represented the 2nd District from 1987 to 1995 and lost a bid for the council presidency two years ago, said his group would spend more than $150,000 on an 18-hole course featuring such Baltimore landmarks as City Hall and the Orchard Street Church. He said he wanted to market the course heavily and tie it in to other attractions, so that a golfer who hits a hole-in-one might win a pass to the National Aquarium.

"We intend to do major marketing. We intend to make it a destination site," Stokes said.

The group plans to purchase a partial miniature golf course "kit" and add Baltimore touches with the help of a designer it has already retained, he said.

The former councilman -- whose group includes Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver and Dunbar High School graduate Calvin Williams and funeral home director Samuel Redd Jr. -- said his group would lease the land for a yet-to-be-determined fee.

Stokes said his group did not learn until a few days ago that Maryland Art Place was interested in the site.

"We didn't take this from them," he said.

But Rasmussen said city officials knew for months that Maryland Art Place was eyeing the Rash Field site, in part because two of them -- Schmoke chief of staff Lynnette W. Young and mayoral aide Mari Ross -- sit on the gallery's board.

Efforts to reach Young and Ross were unsuccessful.

Rasmussen said Maryland Art Place needed to find a space to operate Art Links so it could continue to earn money for the gallery's programs and could begin to pay off a $125,000 loan from the Abell Foundation to build the course.

Montgomery County had offered to put the course on public land Silver Spring, Rasmussen said, but he added, "We definitely think we should be in Baltimore."

Pub Date: 3/22/97

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