Convert Memorial Stadium to offices? JHU floats trial balloon to preserve old ballpark

June 11, 1998|By Alec Klein | Alec Klein,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Paula Lavigne contributed to this report.

In yesterday's story about the Johns Hopkins University's proposal to turn Memorial Stadium into an office complex, the number of Orioles World Series titles was misstated. The team has played in six World Series and won three of them.

The Sun regrets the error.

In a dramatic play rare in urban redevelopment, Johns Hopkins University is proposing to save Memorial Stadium from the wrecking ball by converting the storied ballpark into an office complex -- a plan that would preserve a piece of Baltimore lore.

The idea, which officials say could cost $45 million, would keep intact the stadium's brick exterior, eliminate seating and enclose the interior of the horseshoe-shaped shell with a glass curtain, looking out onto the site of the heroics of former Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas and Orioles Gold-Glover Brooks Robinson.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Under the plan, unveiled last night at a meeting of the Memorial Stadium Eastern High School Task Force, an advisory body to the city, floors would be added between the stadium concourses to create four or five stories of office space.

The middle infield would be left as an expansive garden courtyard. And the centerpiece would remain the beloved war memorial on the stadium's south wall, which reads: "TIME WILL NOT DIM THE GLORY OF THEIR DEEDS."

"It has great potential in terms of what it can be used for," said Lester R. Conley, president of Dome Real Estate, Hopkins' development arm.

Where fans once watched their hometown teams win three NFL championships and six World Series titles, Hopkins would create 300,000 to 400,000 square feet of space for offices, laboratories and retail activity.

Though officials said the complex was unnamed, and veterans groups were urging that "Memorial" be part of its moniker, architectural renderings displayed last night dubbed the project "Johns Hopkins Technology Park."

"It's very intriguing and has a lot of potential," said task force Chairman Charles C. Graves III, the city's director of planning.

"There are a lot of old stadiums across the country, and this is the first time I've heard of reusing this type of facility. It has the potential to be a national model."

Hopkins officials stressed that they are in the early planning stages, that they are not committed to this plan and that they need to hear from all interested parties, including neighborhoods and city and state officials.

Moreover, the university board of trustees would have to approve the plan.

"This is preliminary," said James T. McGill, the university's senior vice president for administration.

Still unanswered are: How long would it take to redevelop the site? Is it economically viable for Hopkins? Can the university attract enough tenants to fill the space? To what extent would the stadium's sports tradition be highlighted? As yet, officials have done no market studies or economic impact analysis.

Last night, Hopkins began to hear from residents of Waverly, which abuts the stadium to the west, and Greater Ednor, immediately to the north.

"I think it's a great project," said Robert Max of the Better Greenmount Alliance, a neighborhood business association. "I think it's a building everybody would like to see preserved."

Others, concerned that they had been left out of the loop, were more circumspect about the prospects of making office space out of the concrete concourses where spectators bought their hot dogs.

"Inside the stadium? How bizarre," said Betsey Foster, a member of the Ednor Gardens-Lakeside Civic Association. "It looks like a stadium. It smells like a stadium. But, oh no, office space."

It wasn't what city officials had envisioned for the 44-year-old, 65,000-seat stadium. They planned a $10 million, three-year demolition.

The state had appropriated $850,000 to plan the razing and $9 million was to follow. The city had expected to begin the demolition on the 30-acre site early next year.

And plans were being made to move the memorials -- including an urn holding soil from cemeteries where American fighters are buried worldwide -- to a site near the new Ravens stadium.

Now, Hopkins officials say they will likely need more than $10 million from the state for the development and financial assistance from the city. In return, McGill said, Hopkins would put up its reputation and about a third of the cost -- from $10 million to $15 million.

The idea for such a bold -- and expensive -- endeavor began to take shape in February when officials of Dome wondered whether there was a way to use Memorial Stadium -- a structure that for all its problems over the years has a remarkably solid concrete frame. Hopkins brought in the same architects and engineers who had worked on the Ravens stadium and designed an office complex.

For Hopkins, it was not only a matter of nostalgia but of self-interest, officials concede. The university and medical center continue to grow, requiring more space.

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