State buys nightclub for stadium lot $3.1 million sale of Hammerjacks, two other tracts approved

Will close within weeks

Price angers owner

site to be paved for Ravens, O's parking

April 16, 1997|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Hammerjacks, the mammoth nightclub in the shadow of Camden Yards, has been purchased by the state to make way for stadium parking and will close within a few weeks.

The Maryland Stadium Authority approved a $3.1 million agreement yesterday to buy three tracts of land at 1101, 1123 and 1125 S. Howard St. The parcels house Hammerjacks, sister nightclubs Louie Louies and Gridlock, and a warehouse.

Hammerjacks opened under an Interstate 395 overpass in 1977 as a disco club and has adapted over the years to changing musical tastes, moving from disco to heavy metal to mainstream rock and finally contemporary black entertainment.

Among the acts that have appeared on its stage: Donna `D Summer, Guns 'N' Roses, and Ozzy Osbourne.

There are no plans to reopen the club elsewhere. An auction will be held to sell the electronics, furnishings and artifacts, including the giant rooftop sign familiar to motorists passing along the interstate.

Lou Principio, owner of Hammerjacks and the adjacent properties, said he was offered $5.8 million by the stadium authority in 1988 and believed the property now was worth at least $4.4 million. But he was tired of the fight.

"I feel like someone punched me in the stomach. I've cooperated and worked with them and agreed to anything they asked, and they said, 'Take it or go to court,' " Principio said.

He said he doesn't have the money to open a new Hammerjacks and will try to find something else to do after taking some time off.

"The deal is absolutely crushingly destructive, and I am sick about the way I was treated," he said.

The stadium authority argued that downtown property values have fallen since 1988.

"We made what we think is a fair and tangible deal. Our obligation is to pay fair market value," said Bruce Hoffman, the stadium authority's executive director.

The deal will go before the state Board of Public Works today and, later, the Legislative Policy Committee of the General Assembly. Both bodies are expected to approve the deal, Hoffman said.

The Hammerjacks strip is the final component of the 85-acre Camden Yards site designated in 1987 by the General Assembly for a twin-stadium complex. At its peak, dozens of businesses employing about 1,000 people worked in the industrial park there before baseball stadium construction began.

The state and Hammerjacks' owners were far apart on the value of the property -- Hammerjacks initially put its value at up to $10 million -- when Oriole Park was built. The stadium authority decided then to drop the acquisition until a football team moved to the state.

The move to Baltimore of the Cleveland Browns in 1995 started the process again, and the negotiations have dragged as the two sides sorted through widely divergent appraisals.

The stadium authority also condemned the property yesterday, a legal formality to insulate the state from future legal claims on the property.

Principio said he's not sure which day will be Hammerjacks' last. The stadium authority expects the club to be closed by the end of the month and demolition to begin shortly thereafter.

The site will be paved and graded to serve as parking for fans attending Orioles and Ravens games.

Pub Date: 4/16/97

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