O's at odds with state on lot plan Stadium authority to pursue development at Camden Yards

Nike, others ready to build

Team vows legal action to prevent complex

October 01, 1997|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

The Orioles and Maryland Stadium Authority appear to be on another collision course as the state agency moves forward this week with plans for a Niketown-type entertainment complex at Camden Yards -- a development the team bitterly opposes.

The state is expected to announce later this week that it is issuing a formal request for ideas to develop the land -- now a parking lot -- between the Ravens' and Orioles' stadiums. The stadium authority wants to incorporate a parking garage into the development and pay for it with revenue from the development.

The model the state points to is the hybrid shoe store/sports museums operated by Nike Inc. called Niketown. Other examples of similar developments nationwide include Planet Hollywood, nightclubs/restaurants with a movie-star theme, and the All-Star Cafe, focused on pro athletes. There even has been discussion of a small hotel.

Stadium authority officials say they have received numerous inquiries from companies willing to build at the site, and hope the project will create parking for the stadiums and jobs for the city.

But the Orioles, though eager to replace parking lost to the construction of the Ravens' stadium, prefer a parking garage be built across the street, on a site now occupied by Staples Office Superstore and other businesses.

Orioles attorney Alan Rifkin said the club would take legal action to block the entertainment complex. The stadium authority said the team cannot prevent development on the state-owned site as long as it does not interfere with baseball games.

"It would diminish the unique and significant ambience of Camden Yards. This is not a shopping mall. This is one of the world's finest sports venues," Rifkin said.

He said the team fears the additional complex would also hinder fans getting to and from games.

"If the stadium authority is intent on bringing other commercial activities to the area, there is plenty of land that surrounds the footprint of Camden Yards," Rifkin said.

At the Orioles' request, the state conducted a study of traffic around the Staples site and determined that a properly designed garage would not unreasonably tie up traffic. The team said it would be willing to help finance the garage by assigning some season-ticket holders parking there. The fees paid by those fans would go toward the garage. The team said the garage, which would cost an estimated $35 million to $45 million, might then pay for itself.

But the stadium authority said it does not have the power, or money, to condemn the site and take the land. And it is reluctant to displace existing businesses. The state spent more than $100 million purchasing land and relocating businesses -- which employed about 1,000 people in total -- from the 85-acre Camden Yards site over the past decade.

The team and its landlord each accuse the other of dragging its bTC feet in remedying a shortage of parking at Camden Yards. The Ravens construction eliminated 2,600 of the 5,600 parking spaces that used to be at Camden Yards. The stadium authority contracted with nearby lots to replace most of those lost, but the team has never been happy with the arrangement, which has prompted complaints from fans relegated to lots a block or more from the stadium. The parking shortage was particularly acute during the six regular-season weekday day games when downtown parking lots were full of commuters.

The state has also examined an underground garage, under what is now parking Lot A, directly south of Oriole Park, but is concerned about the costs and limited revenue. Rifkin said the team would be interested in a simple parking deck on the Niketown site, without the associated businesses, and might give up some revenue to make the project work.

But stadium authority chairman John Moag said parking decks are expensive to build and will have a hard time attracting cars when there are no games. "The governor is not keen on any proposal that is not supportable financially," Moag said.

Rifkin said Moag threatened last week to drop support for any additional parking if the team opposed the Niketown concept -- in essence "leveraging" the Orioles' support for the project.

Moag denied that, saying: "We have an absolutely solid commitment to return Camden Yards to the same number of parking spaces as before. There is only a dispute about whether and how we do it on site or across a six-lane highway."

The state is obligated under the Orioles' lease to provide at least 4,000 sites at Camden Yards for the team. In addition, if it does not provide 5,000 spaces for the Orioles, the state must compensate the team for lost parking revenue, something it will do this year, using revenue from the satellite lots.

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