Wrecking ball back at work on stadium

O'Malley authorizes demolition only of outfield bleachers

Judge rejects halt request

March 03, 2001|By Caitlin Francke and Jamie Stiehm | Caitlin Francke and Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

The demolition of Memorial Stadium resumed yesterday morning as preservationists lost a last-minute court hearing to halt destruction of the lauded landmark.

Wrecking crews began work about 11 a.m., bringing down portions of the left outfield bleachers. The demolition started at the order of Mayor Martin O'Malley, who had tried to craft a compromise with preservationists and developers Thursday night.

An agreement was reached to save the war memorial portion of the facade, but preservationists want more.

About five hours after demolition began, Preservation Maryland filed a request in Baltimore Circuit Court to stop the crews until Friday, when a hearing is scheduled on the legality of the demolition permit.

Judge Thomas E. Noel said he denied the preservationists' request for a temporary restraining order in part because there was little likelihood under the law that the preservationists would win at the hearing Friday.

Preservation Maryland President Tyler Gearhart said he was considering taking the case to federal court. But he also indicated that he wanted to reach a compromise with O'Malley and Govans Ecumenical Development Corp., the church-based nonprofit organization that wants to build senior housing and a YMCA on the site.

Gearhart said he was willing to settle for saving less than the entire stadium.

"I'd much rather work this out in a conciliatory way for a win-win," he said.

Meanwhile, O'Malley vowed to continue demolition on the 30-acre North Baltimore site. But perhaps mindful of the looming court date, O'Malley has ordered only that the left and right field bleachers be torn down - for now.

Richard Slosson, executive director of Maryland's Stadium Authority, said O'Malley has not ordered demolition of anything beyond the bleachers.

"We don't have that direction yet," Slosson said. "We've been told to continue [with] the bleachers until we get further direction from the city."

O'Malley said he told officials to begin demolishing "the stuff that all of us agree is not to be saved in any event."

"We tried very hard to come up with a compromise."

Under the agreement reached Thursday night, GEDCO will scale back its project to build housing for 500 and leave intact the stadium's 10-story wall fronting 33rd Street that contains a war memorial. In addition, officials said, they will double retail office space to 100,000 square feet.

The last-minute maneuverings mean that demolition costs will rise as well as construction costs for the $43 million development. Stadium Authority officials said the cost of demolition will be more than $4 million - up from $2.6 million - because the work will require more precision.

GEDCO officials also said their development costs will rise because of the redesign needed to incorporate the wall.

In addition, it is not clear who will maintain the wall. GEDCO officials said they want no responsibility for the memorial.

"The memorial is not something we would own and maintain, but it is not clear what entity would and who will pay for what," said the Rev. John R. "Jack" Sharp, president of GEDCO.

Yesterday's events were prompted by the beginning of the demolition Wednesday. Negotiations about the future of the structure had been going on for months.

But almost immediately after the wrecking ball hit the left-field bleachers, O'Malley told the Stadium Authority to stop and held urgent meetings with parties who were wrestling over the site.

Asked about his decision to halt destruction, O'Malley said he had been trying to resolve concerns of preservationists and state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, a former Baltimore mayor. Schaefer wants the site used for economic development to generate jobs and raise tax revenue.

"In order to try to achieve a compromise, I asked them to hold off on the wrecking ball for a day or two," O'Malley said. "I was hoping to kind of head off litigation."

GEDCO won the rights to develop the site two years ago, but in the past month O'Malley was considering other ideas for the area, including the creation of a bike racing track, a project long sought by area bicyclists and those behind the city's bid for the 2012 Olympics.

O'Malley said yesterday that there would be enough room on the site to build the track if it is needed for the Olympics. Sports fields will be carved out for the YMCA, and a track could be constructed there.

In late January, after state officials approved the $2.6 million demolition contract, Preservation Maryland appealed the demolition permit with the city's Housing and Community Development Department. That is the hearing scheduled for Friday.

GEDCO officials said they were heartened by yesterday's ruling and optimistic about breaking ground on their project late this year.

Sharp said he is satisfied with the new agreement fashioned by O'Malley.

"We went into that meeting [Thursday] and made a major compromise," Sharp said. "I think the mayor took a stand with us as a consequence."

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