Aberdeen baseball stadium plan revived Harford looks anew at minor-league park

September 05, 1997|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

The years-long effort to build a minor-league stadium in Cal Ripken's hometown -- which had stalled as Aberdeen officials tried to persuade Harford County to help fund it -- is gathering momentum once again.

Buoyed by a local family's donation of 30 acres off Interstate 95 this summer, city officials have crafted a new $1.5 million financing plan in hopes of enticing Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann to contribute county funds.

Meanwhile, Ripken Stadium has been chosen as the stadium name, and minor-league owner Peter Kirk continues to express interest in bringing a team to Aberdeen if the stadium becomes )) reality.

"Virtually all of the players are on board to make this thing a reality," said Aberdeen Mayor Charles R. Boutin, who expects to meet with Gov. Parris N. Glendening in the next few weeks to discuss a possible commitment of state funds.

Still, he says, the plan can only go forward if the county agrees to lend the project $1 million and donate an additional $500,000. "I can't really go to the state until all the local factors are in place, and that seems to be happening," Boutin said.

The 6,000-seat, $12 million stadium project has been formally in the works since spring and is seen as an economic development cornerstone for Aberdeen, a community of about 14,000, which hopes to compete with the waterfront community of Havre de Grace for tourists.

Under the latest proposal, the city of Aberdeen would use the $1-a-car parking fees collected at events to repay a $1 million loan from the county over 10 years.

The city also would buy a still-to-be-determined portion of Demarco Memorial Park, adjacent to the proposed stadium site, for baseball and soccer fields to be run by the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Another key element of the plan is the 30 acres off I-95 donated by the Stancill family for the stadium site.

Valued at about $1.4 million, the land behind Beards Hill Shopping Center near Route 22 would allow the structure to be visible from the highway, which is crucial to Aberdeen's attempt to make the stadium a regional draw and tourist attraction.

"If we can get 360,000 people to come through the stadium, I think it's reasonable to expect that 20 percent of those people will come downtown to visit the Ripken Museum," Boutin said. "We are hoping people will come up Friday night for a game and decide to stay over a night to visit some of the other attractions we have."

Boutin said a committee will be formed to lure other events to the stadium during the off-season.

Rehrmann is considering the proposal and will meet with park and recreation officials to discuss it, said county spokesman George F. Harrison.

fTC "What her concern from day one has been is that county dollars are well spent," Harrison said. "If this is a good project, then the county will support it, but we need to be assured that there will be a return on the money invested."

Boutin said he is negotiating with Kirk -- head of the Maryland Baseball Limited Partnership, which owns the Delmarva Shorebirds, as well as clubs in Bowie and Frederick -- to supply a minor-league team if the stadium is built.

And Boutin, who said he hopes to present a plan to the state legislature early next year and open the stadium in the summer of 1999, has consulted officials from the Maryland Stadium Authority about building and managing the site.

Local officials also intend to cultivate the Ripken association. An anonymous donor who had offered $1 million in exchange for naming rights to the stadium withdrew his offer, Boutin said, and the Ripken name was chosen because of the family's long history with baseball and Aberdeen.

"We don't have a beautiful waterfront like Havre de Grace, which draws in tourists, but we are lucky enough to be the hometown of Cal Ripken and the town where his parents still live," Boutin said. "Hopefully, soon, we'll have a stadium."

Pub Date: 9/05/97

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