Council might OK corporate funds for public fields Orioles, Saturn dealers would renovate facilities

October 14, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Call them fields of green.

A proposal to use donated corporate money to renovate two public baseball fields in Reisterstown sparked a sharp Baltimore County Council discussion yesterday on the sensitive question of naming public facilities for private companies.

The exchange threatened to derail the donation of $26,000 from the Orioles and area Saturn auto dealers to rebuild the fields at Hannah More Park, but council members moved toward an apparent compromise.

The work session was the council's first brush with an issue that has become more common nationally, as politicians squeeze their recreation budgets and try to compensate with public-private partnerships.

Owners of the Baltimore Ravens football team have struggled to determine which corporate sponsor will gain the right to name the publicly funded stadium downtown. Also, Howard County officials in May proposed selling the naming rights for up to 60 parks, a proposal that is pending.

The offer by the Orioles and Jerry Fader's Heritage Automotive Group to pay for work at Hannah More is part of a local, three-year effort to promote baseball and "give back to the community," said John Yuhanick, spokesman for the agency managing the funds.

The two fields remain wet after rain and must be rebuilt to make them usable, said John F. Weber, county Recreation and Parks director. He said both fields need to be regraded and seeded before the weather turns cold. The funds also would pay for new dugouts.

Part of the money -- $6,000 -- is earmarked for a new sign, which was to have referred to the renovated playing areas as "Orioles-Saturn Fields." That drew a strong objection from Councilman Kevin B. Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat.

"I have a real problem with a corporate logo on a public facility," Kamenetz said, calling for a county policy covering such transactions. "Unless guidelines are in place, I suggest we pull the bill."

Robin Churchill, county administrative officer, said a draft policy is under review but said the Hannah More project was pushed through because of the changing weather. She suggested a sign that would credit the donors but not rename the fields.

Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, a north county-Owings Mills Republican who represents the area, said, "I think it's great. I'm all for this -- but it is a precedent."

McIntire offered to amend the resolution, removing the reference to corporate names, if the donors agree. A vote will come at Monday night's council meeting.

Yuhanick said his clients would not object to a sign that gives them credit without renaming the fields.

"They really want to give back to the community," not just find a new way to advertise, he said.

Yuhanick said the Orioles and Heritage have $112,500 in cash set aside for such projects and have helped repair fields in Baltimore City and in Howard and Anne Arundel counties.

The Hannah More project is the first time any objection has been raised, he said.

Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat, said nothing during yesterday's debate but afterward took a practical view. "You need a policy in place," he said. But, he said, the bottom line is "take the money."

Pub Date: 10/14/98

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