Demolition of Memorial Stadium gets state's OK

Schaefer opposes `tragedy,' is outvoted

January 25, 2001|By M. Dion Thompson and Jamie Stiehm | M. Dion Thompson and Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

After an hour of aggressive questioning by an irascible Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, the state Board of Public Works approved a contract yesterday to demolish Memorial Stadium, ending a months-long deadlock over use of the site.

"This is a tragedy," said Schaefer, who voted against the contract. "You are destroying a memorial to the [World War] veterans."

Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Treasurer Richard N. Dixon voted for the project, clearing the way for a large senior citizen community and a YMCA center to be built on the 30-acre site in Northeast Baltimore.

Officials with Potts & Callahan, which was awarded the $2.6 million contract, said demolition work should begin within the next few weeks and be complete by September.

Yesterday's vote came after Schaefer grilled Maryland Stadium Authority officials and state legislators. He often made caustic asides to Dixon, who had supported Schaefer's move to delay the vote late last year.

"I'm surprised at Richard, who prides himself on being such a financial genius," said Schaefer, who wondered aloud during the meeting how Dixon, a Vietnam veteran, could support tearing down Memorial Stadium.

The Govans Ecumenical Development Corp., a church-based consortium, plans to build 320 apartments, 80 assisted-living units and 30 cottages on the site. About 500 seniors will be able to live in the Stadium Place community, conceived as a national model for housing for the elderly.

GEDCO won the rights to the site more than a year ago, after the city asked for development proposals.

GEDCO expects to take control of the East 33rd Street site from the city late this year and break ground early next year. The nonprofit corporation has received $5.1 million of a projected $10 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But despite the city's selection of GEDCO's proposal, Schaefer has been highly critical - saying the 1954 structure should be preserved and the development should produce more jobs and tax revenue.

Responding to Schaefer's criticism that the $43 million project was subsidized, the Rev. John R. Sharp, chairman of GEDCO, said after the hearing, "That misrepresents what we're doing. Only one-quarter of our project is federal funding. I don't think he understands what we're trying to do, have a mixed-income senior community with medical services."

Julia Pierson, executive director of GEDCO, said yesterday that the rest of the money would come from tax-exempt bonds, bank loans, market-rate housing built by a private developer and fund raising. For the concept to work, the stadium had to come down, she said, despite its sentimental memories.

Plans for the site also include a $10 million YMCA center that will be paid for through private funds. It will be the largest in the city. Lee Jensen, president of the YMCA of Central Maryland, emphasized that the recreational center will be an asset to Baltimore and to "kids, families, seniors, those underserved."

The memorial's distinctive stainless steel lettering will be stored until the city figures out the next best use, over the objections of some who wish to save both the lettering and the facade. YMCA officials said yesterday that a smaller version of the 10-story memorial faM-gade will be re-created on a four-story wall facing East 33rd Street.

Nonetheless, preservationists were upset.

"GEDCO doesn't have its financing in place," said Tyler Gearhart, executive director of Preservation Maryland. "The comptroller was right on the mark. We thought we were close to some compromise that would save the stadium."

Schaefer sharply questioned Stadium Authority representatives on aspects of the contract, such as how Potts & Callahan won the demolition bid, how debris will be disposed of and who really owns minority subcontractors.

"You're trying to rush this through," he said to the Stadium Authority representatives. "Did you get an order or a directive from the governor that if we didn't pass this today, $9 million will be taken out of the budget?"

Edward C. Cline, deputy director, said there had been no behind-the-scenes pressure to push through the approval.

Next came state legislators from Northeast Baltimore's 43rd District - which includes the stadium - all Democrats. Sen. Joan Carter Conway went first, followed by Del. Michael V. Dobson.

Schaefer let it be known that he was not going to be impressed by their comments supporting the demolition.

"I want to hear from [Del. Kenneth C.] Montague because [Dobson] is going to do just what you tell him," Schaefer told Conway.

Conway replied: "At this juncture, I think it would be unfair to give a contractor a contract for the site and then pull it back," she said. "I'm just advocating what my community is for."

As she left the podium, Dobson turned to her and said: "Joan, you forgot to give me my script."

"Oh, darling," Conway replied, in a mock Hollywood voice. "I left it at home."

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