Preservationists end their fight for stadium

Memorial will stay, city assures group

March 10, 2001|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

The battle over the future of Memorial Stadium appears to be over, after the group seeking to save it from a wrecking ball gave up the fight yesterday.

Preservation Maryland, a nonprofit organization, was to appeal the demolition permit at an administrative hearing yesterday but decided against it because even a ruling in the group's favor would likely result in only a short delay of the project, said Tyler Gearhart, the group's executive director.

"I think we have exhausted all those legal avenues," Gearhart said. "We're losing a great Baltimore City landmark that means a lot to the city, but more importantly we've missed a great development opportunity."

After being notified of the group's decision, city officials authorized the Maryland Stadium Authority to destroy the building - except the part that contains a war memorial.

Preserving the 10-story wall, which faces 33rd Street, was key to the agreement made last week by Mayor Martin O'Malley and the nonprofit agency that won the right to develop the land for senior housing and a YMCA.

O'Malley said that he crafted the compromise last week to head off litigation by the preservationists - but the preservationists weren't satisfied and took their battle to state court last Friday and federal court Wednesday.

Each time, they lost.

Yesterday, Gearhart said that part of the reason he decided to drop his group's legal challenges was that the city had finally given him a "firm commitment" to save the memorial wall.

"We had gotten some mixed signals" from City Hall, Gearhart said.

But Deputy Mayor Laurie Schwartz, who oversees economic and neighborhood development, said that is not the case. The city promised to save the wall last week as part of the negotiations.

"We said we would save the memorial wall, and we have remained firm in that commitment," Schwartz said. At the request of the group, Schwartz sent a letter yesterday reiterating the city's promise.

"I just don't know why they started talking about this at the last minute when there was a public process during which they could have voiced their concerns and chose not to," Schwartz said.

Two years ago, the Govans Ecumenical Development Corp. won the right to develop a $43 million project for senior housing and a YMCA on the stadium site.

But in recent months, the preservationists and State Comptroller William Donald Schaefer - a former Baltimore mayor - began to mount challenges. Schaefer wanted the site used for economic development, not housing.

The same day the wrecking ball knocked down part of the stadium, O'Malley abruptly intervened and held urgent meetings with all the parties. As a result, last Thursday he reached a compromise with the developer to save the memorial wall.

GEDCO, a church-based nonprofit developer that had intended to demolish the stadium, agreed to scale back its plan to build housing for 500 and leave the wall intact.

In addition, GEDCO will double retail space to 100,000 square feet.

Schwartz said orders were given to the Stadium Authority yesterday afternoon to destroy more than the bleachers. Authority officials had been told not to bring down anything but the bleachers so there would be no irreparable harm if the preservationists won in court.

She said the demolition will take months.

"It's not an implosion. It's a demolition," Schwartz said.

Stadium authority officials said last week that saving the wall would mean that demolition costs will be more than $4 million - up from $2.6 million - because the work will require more precision.

It was not clear yesterday where the additional funds would come from.

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