Compromise for stadium pleases few

O'Malley proposes plan to maintain memorial wall

Developer is receptive

Preservation group says it's not enough, threatens lawsuit

March 02, 2001|By Neal Thompson and Jamie Stiehm | Neal Thompson and Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Mayor Martin O'Malley plunged further into the tempest over Memorial Stadium's future yesterday, crafting a compromise that could preserve some of the beloved brick facade but angering preservationists who vowed to fight any demolition.

After meeting with O'Malley last night, representatives of Preservation Maryland said that the mayor's plan doesn't save enough of the stadium and that they are preparing to seek an injunction as early as today to stop the structure's destruction.

O'Malley had told city and state officials yesterday that his compromise would include exploring future construction of a bike-racing track on the site, a project long sought by area bicyclists and those behind the city's bid for the 2012 Olympics.

The mayor did not publicly discuss details of at least two closed-doors meetings yesterday and phone calls from his office to city and state officials, preservationists and developers.

But the president of the Govans Ecumenical Development Corp. - which had been chosen by the city to redevelop the stadium site and planned to demolish the entire stadium - confirmed the compromise last night.

"We're committed to saving the memorial wall," said the Rev. John R. "Jack" Sharp, GEDCO's president.

The agreement calls for GEDCO to scale back its plans to build senior housing for 500 and a YMCA on the site and to retain the portion of the stadium's 10-story wall fronting 33rd Street that contains a war memorial.

Sharp said GEDCO hadn't ruled out further study of other uses of the structure.

"It's a compromise," said Kenneth Harris Sr., a Northeast Baltimore councilman. "Everybody can't get what they want."

Yesterday's developments were sparked Wednesday when a demolition crew from Potts & Callahan, which had won the $2.6 million stadium removal contract, began swinging a wrecking ball at the outfield bleachers.

O'Malley immediately asked the Maryland Stadium Authority, which is overseeing the demolition, to halt it. That prompted meetings with parties that have been wrestling over the 30-acre North Baltimore site.

After meeting with GEDCO in the morning, O'Malley met last evening with Robert C. Embry Jr., head of the Abell Foundation, which has offered to fund a new study on preserving the facade; state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, a vociferous opponent of GEDCO's plans; Preservation Maryland leaders, who want to stop demolition; and representatives of Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, which lost out to GEDCO in the bid to redevelop the site and recently expressed renewed interest in playing a role.

After that meeting, Preservation Maryland's President Tyler Gearhart said his group would sue to prevent demolition: "We are prepared to go to court [today]."

Schaefer and Embry supported Gearhart's plan to sue. Embry said he would consider funding such a lawsuit because the proposal wasn't "acceptable to anybody."

In late January, after state officials approved the demolition, Preservation Maryland appealed the demolition permit with the city's Housing and Community Development department. The appeal is pending, but O'Malley said Wednesday that there is no legal impediment to demolition.

In an interview, Schaefer said O'Malley needs to stop thinking like the Northeast Baltimore councilman he once was and start taking a leadership role in guiding all parties toward a solution for the stadium.

"He's the mayor now," Schaefer said. "He has to look out for the whole city."

But Schaefer said after last night's meeting that he was "disappointed" with O'Malley: "He had already made up his mind."

By day's end, despite the threat of a lawsuit, some said O'Malley had positioned himself as a new guiding force for the stadium.

"This is the first time this newly elected mayor has gotten actively involved in a hands-on way in this issue," said state Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., a Democrat who represents the stadium area. "It's clear that the power and the authority to determine what happens at that site rests in his hands."

O'Malley, who has been entertaining new ideas on the stadium for about a month, defended GEDCO yesterday. The church-based nonprofit put forward a winning $43 million proposal two years ago to build the YMCA and moderately priced senior housing.

"GEDCO took part in the process and won," O'Malley said at his weekly morning news conference. "It has met every deadline, and it has relied on [the city's] commitment. Neighbors thought it was the highest and best use."

Tony White, the mayor's spokesman, said GEDCO would stay as lead developer. It's not clear what role Struever Bros. might play.

Janet Marie Smith, a vice president of Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, said yesterday that Memorial Stadium should be envisioned and re-used as a gem in Baltimore's landscape:

"In the city of monuments, it's the biggest monument of all."

City Council members who represent that district said O'Malley's actions might not be welcomed by all stadium neighbors.

"I'm just concerned that their wishes [for the demolition to go forward] are not being adhered to at the final hour," said council member Lisa Joi Stancil.

Robert Curran said the community has already approved the original GEDCO plan. He said the velodrome was a good idea, but it would scale back the other two projects.

"I'd be hard-pressed to take another plan back to the community," he said. "I think the community wants finality."

But Montague called the mayor's approach "a significant change" from the past year.

"He can have the role now of moderating this," he said. "And it's better to be thoughtful, to make sure everybody is comfortable with what happens."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.