Seeking to raise much-needed revenue, Baltimore's parks officials are negotiating with a local business group that wants to turn a vacant stone cottage in the center of historic Druid Hill Park into a carryout that would serve everything from bagels to burgers.
Under terms of a five-year lease, Butler Group Ltd. would spend up to $130,000 to renovate the one-story flagstone and brick structure and convert it into a concession stand that would operate year-round from 6 a.m. until the park's closing, according to company and parks officials.
The negotiations to put a carryout in the cottage, built in the 1920s and vacant for two decades, represent a continuation of recent efforts to find more ways to get money out of Druid Hill Park, the oldest of the city's major parks, and from other parks and recreation facilities.
Last month, the department began soliciting proposals for a crab house to operate in the park during the summer. It also abandoned, after community protest, a proposal to sell 9 acres of parkland as "surplus property."
The Board of Estimates, the city's top elected and appointed officials, granted the parks department authority yesterday to accept the Butler Group's proposal, which was unsolicited, and to begin writing a contract.
The Butler Group projects that the stand, to be called The Great American Burger and modeled after a carryout of the same name that one of the company's principals operated in Harborplace in the 1980s, will generate about $400,000 in annual sales. The Department of Recreation and Parks would receive a percentage of sales that is to be determined.
The parks department is struggling with severe management and budgetary problems.
On Friday, Director Marlyn J. Perritt abruptly resigned after seven years on the job. Her resignation came after Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke questioned her leadership and a mayoral task force criticized her for not being enterprising enough in generating money.
Today, the mayor and City Council will continue to haggle over proposed deep cuts in the department's budget.
Company and parks officials took pains yesterday to differentiate the carryout plan from the abortive attempt to sell part of the park to a local church that planned extensive development of the property. They pointed out that in this case the city is leasing a building it cannot afford to renovate, not selling parkland.
"Please don't put it in the same category," said Michael R. Butler, who lives south of Druid Hill Park and is president of the Butler Group, which includes members of his family.
"If the business fails, the city retains a renovated building," added Stephanie Esworthy, the department's administrative supervisor.
Butler and Esworthy said a concession stand was among uses for the cottage suggested in a 1995 master plan for the park developed with extensive public participation. At least one additional forum will be held to discuss specifics of the plan, they said.
Yesterday, a supporter of the park who opposed the land sale also expressed strong reservations about the concession stand.
"We're only looking at the bottom line here," said Judy Morris, president of Friends of Druid Hill Park. "The park was not meant to have concession stands as a way of funding a budget that the city can't maintain."