Stadium site plan is O'Malley's folly

April 03, 2001|By David F. Tufaro

MAYOR MARTIN O'Malley has decided to let the wrecking ball demolish Memorial Stadium and replace it with subsidized low-income elderly housing, a YMCA and some commercial space -- a gross underutilization of this site.

This prime 31-acre Baltimore City site cries out for major economic development. If developed properly, this site could generate 3,000 jobs and contribute to the stabilization of the surrounding neighborhoods. The mayor's shortsighted decision conflicts with his own pronouncements that economic development is "really the solution to our fiscal problems." Baltimore can ill afford any more missed opportunities.

We need to ask ourselves where the process went wrong. There are numerous reasons, but there are two primary factors that made the recent decision possible.

The first was that the money for demolition come from the state under a contract approved by the state Board of Public Works (so much for Smart Growth). The second was that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development approved the $5 million in federal funds for the subsidized elderly housing.

Neither government entity has direct accountability to the citizens of the city. Without these state and federal funds, neither the Govans Ecumenical Development Corp. nor the mayor and City Council would have made the decision to develop the current project or to demolish the stadium.

The Schmoke administration failed to articulate a clear strategic plan for the city, an approach continued by the O'Malley administration. Precisely because of the absence of a plan, when the city offered the site for redevelopment, there were no priorities established as to the intensity of development, the uses, the adaptive reuse of the stadium or preservation of the memorial.

Another contributing factor to the development plan is the weakness of our historic preservation institutions. While the Commission for Historic and Architectural Preservation supported preservation of the stadium, CHAP only has the power of recommendation, which the mayor saw fit to ignore.

The state Historic Preservation Office let the city down by determining that the stadium is ineligible to be placed on the National Register of Historic Buildings, which would have forced HUD to have made an assessment about whether the stadium ought to be preserved before awarding the federal housing funds.

It is important to note that our city's future is unalterably linked to its historic character. Think how much poorer our city would be if the highway had been allowed to come through Fells Point, the warehouse at Camden Yards to be torn down or Mount Vernon Square to have been demolished and replaced with buildings in the 1960s.

The Maryland Stadium Authority, claiming it was a neutral party, pushed aggressively for demolition; it, too, is not accountable to the citizens, and has been granted power beyond its original mission.

As usual there has been a lack of leadership from business leaders and institutions like the Greater Baltimore Committee. If they will not speak up on as important an issue as a prime economic development opportunity, when will they speak up? And with the notable exceptions of state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and city Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., there has been a lack of political courage displayed by our elected officials.

Ultimately, the battle for common-sense development has been fought by a very small cadre of citizens, a couple of elected officials, Maryland Preservation and Bob Embry of the Abell Foundation. The rest of the citizenry sits around and watches our city decline.

Bringing the wrecking ball to Memorial Stadium ought to be a wake-up call for our citizens and our leaders.

David F. Tufaro, a real estate developer, was the 1999 Republican candidate for mayor of Baltimore City.

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