Memorial proves costly to taxpayers Housing CFL, Ravens totals $3 million more than raised by tickets

December 15, 1997|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Built for a song in the 1950s, Memorial Stadium has only grown more costly over the years.

Accommodating the Ravens for the past two years and the Canadian Football League before that has cost state taxpayers about $3 million beyond what has been raised in ticket taxes.

And now that the final game has been played, the next step will be to demolish the stadium at an estimated cost of $15 million to $20 million. It was built for $6 million.

After the Orioles left in 1991 for their new ballpark at Camden Yards, Memorial Stadium was left standing, ready to serve as a temporary home for the NFL team the city was seeking. Instead, the CFL arrived in 1994, and in 1995 the legislature appropriated $2 million for renovations of the stadium to hold the CFL championship, the Grey Cup, which was supposed to come to town this year. Of that, $917,000 was spent before the NFL announced its return in 1995 and the CFL retreated to Canada.

The Maryland Stadium Authority took over control of the park and spent another $1.6 million adding temporary bleachers and toilets, fixing the locker rooms, repairing concrete and other things, said Edward Cline, deputy director of the stadium authority.

The stadium authority dipped into its operating budget to meet these costs in excess of $2 million.

As part of its deal to lure the Browns, now Ravens, from Cleveland, the stadium authority agreed to charge no rent at Memorial and to pay for operation and maintenance of the stadium. The team has provided its own ticket-takers and ushers and covered other game-day expenses.

Start-up operation and maintenance costs ran higher than expected in the first season: $3.129 million. The stadium authority had planned to cover the operating costs with its ticket tax receipts, but these were only $2.3 million in the debut season.

This year, with attendance running below last year's levels, the tax receipts are expected to be $2 million. Operating costs, however, are expected to be less. The state projects these will cost between $1.6 million and $1.9 million, depending on mothballing costs.

That would leave the state with an operating deficit of $946,000 to $1.246 million, including investments in the stadium beyond the $2 million appropriation.

"We're still hoping to come close to breaking even with the admissions tax," Cline said.

The state may recoup some of the loss through the sale of stadium artifacts. Some school districts have shown interest in buying the end-zone bleachers. Stadium seats and other mementos also may be sold at some point, Cline said.

Cleveland officials held a "final play" event at their stadium last year and auctioned off everything from benches to the executive latrine. Cline said there has been no decision on how to dispose of Memorial Stadium's souvenirs.

The urn of dirt from military cemeteries around the world, installed in the stadium in a 1956 ceremony, has been turned over to the American Legion for safekeeping. It may find a home in the new stadium, Cline said.

The stadium authority committed to the city in 1987, as part of its bid to use Memorial Stadium as a temporary football home, to seek state aid for the stadium's demolition, Cline said.

The stadium authority will turn the stadium back over to the city next fall, after the new stadium opens downtown, but expects no further events will be held there, Cline said. The costs would be high, and there will be two new stadiums in the city to handle big events, he said.

When the Ravens move to the new, $220 million stadium, the lease calls for them to reimburse the state for operating costs incurred at the stadium.

Because of its larger size , the new stadium's operating costs will probably be about $4 million a year.

Pub Date: 12/15/97

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