It's not the facade, stupid

Memorial Stadium: O'Malley should untangle himself from a bad decision he supported on council.

March 03, 2001

UNLESS Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley comes to his senses, Memorial Stadium may become an embarrassing monument to lost opportunities and nitwit decision-making.

At issue is not whether the vacant 33rd Street ballpark should be razed or left standing. Ultimately, what we're talking about is the economic future of the city and the survival of residential neighborhoods like Waverly, Ednor Gardens and Lakeside.

Those underappreciated neighborhoods have shown amazing resilience even as the 33rd Street/Greenmount Avenue shopping area has continued its intractable downfall. Today, they are increasingly at risk: Just look at the wonderful rowhouses on such pretty tree-lined roads as Kimble and Rexmere: They are generally selling for less today than they did 15 years ago.

FOR THE RECORD - A March 3 editorial should have stated that about half (or 29 acres) of the Govans Ecumenical Development Corp. project at Memorial Stadium will generate tax revenue for Baltimore. The Sun regrets the error.

This stagnation is not new. Planners have been concerned about the area's stability for more than a decade. The city even planned to declare a worldwide competition about redeveloping the 56-acre Memorial Stadium/Eastern High School site to get a new injection of investment and energy. The 1991 recession killed such ambitious dreams.

Roughly half of the site, the Eastern High School portion, was given to the Johns Hopkins University. Three competing proposals were offered for the stadium. In the end, the Schmoke administration - with the support of then-Councilman O'Malley - awarded it to a nonprofit corporation that wants to raze the ballpark and build a big senior citizens housing complex there.

In a city where sizable development lots are as scarce as crime-free streets, this is mindless use of prime acreage. But so far, Mr. O'Malley has been incapable of extricating himself from these shortsighted past decisions. Instead of showing bold mayoral leadership, he still acts like a 3rd District councilman.

The city will accrue no property tax benefits, and it will squander an unusual site, if the nonprofit Govans Ecumenical Development Corp. is allowed to go ahead without major modifications in its blueprint.

Reopening this contentious issue at this late stage will not be pretty. But unless Mr. O'Malley has the guts to do so, city taxpayers may end up supporting a newly constructed complex that will bring neither new optimism nor badly needed investment to the declining area.

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