Board set to OK razing of Memorial

Effort to find way to preserve stadium runs out of time

January 24, 2001|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

State officials are expected to approve plans today to demolish Memorial Stadium, clearing the way for the cherished Baltimore landmark to be replaced with a housing complex for senior citizens.

Maryland Treasurer Richard N. Dixon, who had been the swing vote on the three-member Board of Public Works, said yesterday he is prepared to support the proposal when the board meets today in Annapolis.

"I'm ready to vote that way," said Dixon. "We worked very hard to bring about a modified option. It just didn't work."

Gov. Parris N. Glendening also will vote to approve the plan that has won the support of city, community and state leaders, said Michael Morrill, the governor's spokesman. The governor supported the plan when it came before the board for a vote in November.

At that meeting, Dixon joined Comptroller William Donald Schaefer in forcing the Maryland Stadium Authority to withdraw a $2.6 million demolition contract from the board agenda, rather than see the measure go down to defeat. Schaefer and Dixon would have voted against the contract.

Dixon said he decided to support the proposal after speaking with Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., who had been trying to develop an alternative plan for the 30-acre stadium site. The Baltimore delegate told Dixon he had given up his fight.

"I can't ask him to hold it up any longer," said Montague. "He has been very generous in terms of allowing me to work with people. We were close to getting it, but at the last moment it kind of slipped away. That happens."

State officials from the 43rd District, community leaders, and developers held several meetings in the days leading up to today's board meeting. On Monday, the state delegation tried to resolve its differences during a meeting with Glendening. Delegation members came out of that meeting with a majority supporting the housing plan. Many realized that further delays could threaten the project's funding.

"You know, down here in Annapolis when you have money for a project and you don't use it, you could lose it," said Dixon. "That's always a possibility."

The vacant stadium on 33rd Street has been a Baltimore landmark since its dedication in 1954. Johnny Unitas and Lenny Moore staked their claims to the Hall of Fame on its storied turf. Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson and Cal Ripken Jr. brought the city memorable plays and World Series glory.

After the Colts left town and the Orioles moved to Camden Yards, there was little need for Memorial Stadium. Members of the Waverly community, city officials and state legislators clashed over what to do with the site. Some wanted to save the stadium. Others wanted it torn down.

In the end, a plan by the nonprofit Govans Ecumenical Development Corp. to build affordable housing for 500 seniors won neighborhood approval.

The proposal to build 320 apartments, 80 assisted-living units and 30 cottages on the site was approved in 1999 by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. It was considered a done deal until the Nov. 15 board meeting.

Waverly, which straddles East 33rd Street between Greenmount and Ellerslie avenues, has had its ups and downs over the years. Supporters of the project have said they hope it will be a catalyst that turns the area into one of Baltimore's most desirable neighborhoods.

Under the current schedule, Memorial Stadium would be demolished by late summer.

After his last-ditch attempt failed, Montague said yesterday it became clear to him there was no way to save the stadium.

"It just hasn't worked out," he said. "At this point, there's not much else I can do. I did the best I could."

Sun staff writer Jamie Stiehm contributed to this article.

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