City's Memorial Stadium faces demolition next year

Site to be cleared for senior citizens housing complex

May 06, 1999|By Tom Pelton and Jamie Stiehm | Tom Pelton and Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Nearly a half-century of Baltimore sports history is to be blown into dust next year when the city demolishes Memorial Stadium to make room for a 446-unit senior housing development and a recreation center.

Yesterday's decision by Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III ended at least three years of debate about what the city should do with the landmark and its 30 acres of prime real estate.

Completed in 1953, Memorial Stadium in Northeast Baltimore has been vacant since Dec. 14, 1997, when the Ravens played their last football game there before moving across town to a new stadium.

Memorial Stadium was where John Unitas threw his final touchdown pass for the Baltimore Colts.

It was where the Orioles clinched their second World Series championship and Frank Robinson became the only player to rip a home run completely out of the ballpark.

"I remember the first time I went to watch a football game at Memorial Stadium, when I was 12 or 13 years old," Henson said.

"But all of us recognize that this is a building that is going to fall down on us at some point, and we need to let it go."

The plans for the senior citizens housing project, which were to be unveiled this morning by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, represent a victory for community groups that lobbied for the recreation center and housing.

Residents opposed two alternative developments -- a high-tech center and a retail complex-- fearing they would bring traffic.

"We should take a champagne glass and break it against the stadium to celebrate," said Barbara Ruland of Ednor Gardens-Lakeside Civic Association, which had strongly supported the housing proposal.

More likely to succeed

Henson, who was advised by an 11-member review panel, said yesterday that the townhouses for low- and moderate-income senior citizens would be more likely to succeed than the other possibilities.

He said he is skeptical that the proposed research park would have succeeded in luring high-tech companies.

Building the research park had been a favored alternative of some city officials, who liked its potential to bring the city millions in taxes and create high-paying jobs.

Henson said he made his decision over the weekend after strolling along the Inner Harbor with Schmoke during the Waterfront Festival.

"Memorial Stadium represents an extraordinary development opportunity," Schmoke said in a written statement yesterday.

"It will serve as a significant catalyst for the entire area as it transforms itself for the next millennium."

The decision means the nonprofit Govans Ecumenical Development Corp. (GEDCO) will have until Nov. 8 to obtain financing for the $43 million project and conduct a study to convince the city that there is enough demand for housing for senior citizens, officials said.

No city money will be used for the project.

If the developer clears these hurdles, the city will sell some of the land to the developer and demolish the stadium in early 2000.

The state has committed $10 million to help tear down the structure.

The developer has submitted a sketch of the project to the city.

These preliminary drawings show a cluster of townhouses -- some for senior citizens who live on their own, others for those who need help from nursing assistants -- surrounding a tree-lined village green.

Nearby are doctors' offices, shops, ball fields, walking trails, a tot lot and outdoor amphitheater.

The maximum income for those living in the complex would be about $38,000, with the developer making rents affordable through tax credits, city officials said.

Land for park, rec center

The city would leave 7 acres for a park and give some of the 30-acre site to the YMCA, which is trying to raise $5 million to build a community recreation center, Henson said.

The city will preserve the stadi- um's memorial to war veterans on 33rd Street, either by leaving it in place or by replacing it with a miniature version, Henson said.

The Govans Ecumenical Development Corp. is best known for its well-regarded 1996 conversion of a decaying 19th-century home off York Road in North Baltimore, the Gallagher Mansion, into 40 apartments for low-income elderly tenants.

Other proposals

The two other proposals for Memorial Stadium raised the possibility of both preserving the structure and offering more hope for economic development:

Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. of Towson led a group advised by an arm of the Johns Hopkins University that proposed preserving the stadium's shell and building offices and science labs.

A development team including Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse of Baltimore wanted to fill the stadium with a supermarket, health club and theme restaurant.

Myles Hoenig, president of the Better Waverly community organization, said the burden shifts to GEDCO.

"Now they have to prove they can make it work," Hoenig said.

Pub Date: 5/06/99

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