Oriole Park crowd brings good, bad to neighborhoods

Parking problems main concern among residents, businesses

April 03, 2000|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN STAFF

As Oriole Park greets its ninth season of baseball, residents and businesses around the ballpark brace for the arrival of more than 3 million visitors -- and the good and bad that come with them.

Good or bad depends on to whom you talk. But aside from chronic parking problems, people in Otterbein, Federal Hill and other nearby communities say they have learned to coexist with the downtown ballpark -- and its big football brother, PSINet Stadium. Others profit from the crowds.

"The relationship we've had with Camden Yards has been a mixed blessing," said Dick Leitch, a 23-year resident of Federal Hill. "In terms of quality of life, people who live in the neighborhood love to be able to walk there. It's like our neighborhood stadium. On the other hand, most of the businesses have realized very little effect."

Bars being the exception.

One reason businesses have been slow to prosper, Leitch said, is that on-site parking isn't abundant. Aside from reserved spaces, the stadium offers about 2,700 spaces for the general public, so most fans park elsewhere downtown or take public transportation.

Even before the park opened in 1992, residents feared its effect on parking, not to mention drunken fans and trash. Most of those problems have been less severe than anticipated.

"We held a lot of meetings and aired a lot of concerns, and the Orioles and the Stadium Authority and the city have worked with us to protect our neighborhood," said Mary Gorman, a board member with Otterbein Community Association. "The first couple of years, it was a bit more difficult because people didn't know the rules. Now, people from outside the area who drive downtown know if they park here, they'll get ticketed and towed."

The first year Oriole Park opened, 33 percent of fans took public transportation to the games, heeding the call of authorities who warned of gridlock, said Edward C. Cline, deputy director for the Maryland Stadium Authority. But as use of public transportation to games fell off -- it was 18 percent last season, Cline said -- the stress on parking in the neighborhoods increased.

Cline said fans began to realize they could take a chance parking on the streets of Federal Hill, which, not coincidentally, is also home to a number of bars. Most Federal Hill streets are reserved for residents and guests and require permits to park longer than two hours, but many people take their chances escaping the ticket- writers.

"That's our only concern, is the parking," said Bob O'Donahue, a board member with Federal Hill Neighborhood Association. "The enforcement has stayed pretty light over the years. Overall, though, I'd say Camden Yards has been a good thing. I know the restaurants and bars love it."

Business boost

Baseball provides a boost for businesses from Pickles Pub on Washington Boulevard to Ropewalk Tavern and Mothers Federal Hill Grille on Charles Street.

"It definitely brings a lot of people in who don't normally come to South Baltimore and Federal Hill," said Dave Rather, who owns Mothers. "Opening Day will give us four or five times our normal Monday business."

The rest of the season, games bring in about an extra $500 a night, "which is a lot to a small business like ours," he added.

Rather and the others say they get a bigger boost from the post-game crowd than from the pre-gamers, but just how well they do depends a lot on whether the Orioles win -- and on other factors.

Win, lose

"On New York games, we do really well," said Bill Rothwell, a chef at Sisson's Restaurant and Brewery on Cross Street. "Day games on weekends give us a good evening crowd, but it really does matter if they win. If they win, there's a good atmosphere and people hang out. If they lose, people want to get out of here."

Win or lose, members of Old Otterbein United Methodist Church count their cash after each game.

They've been busy with their preparations for the season, having adapted to the crowds Camden has attracted, including the streams of people who walk past the church.

Peddling peanuts

Last week, they held "parties" to divide 25-pound bags and boxes of peanuts into smaller bags that they plan to sling to whomever walks by.

Church members began persuading fans to shell out a buck a bag for the peanuts shortly after Camden Yards opened in 1992. They sell about 40,000 bags a season -- working all home games except Sundays. Peanut revenue has helped pay for two paint jobs, a refurbished church organ and a redone Fellowship Hall.

"We packed up 1,200 pounds of peanuts last week, and we're ready to roll," said the church pastor, the Rev. Millard Knowles. "Camden Yards has been very helpful to us. It gets a little crowded around here sometimes when there's a game on Sundays, but we can handle that stress."

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