O'Malley favors razing stadium wall

Mayor says the city needs `more proper' veterans memorial

November 10, 2001|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Cutting through suspense surrounding the fate of the Memorial Stadium faM-gade, Mayor Martin O'Malley said yesterday he was ready to let the wall come down on East 33rd Street, in favor of a new memorial near Camden Yards.

"We need to act now, given the age of the World War II veterans," O'Malley said yesterday. "It's urgent to erect a more proper, appropriate memorial, with some of the lettering. My primary interests are the neighbors and veterans, and if they agree it should come down, let's move right away."

Maryland Stadium Authority officials said yesterday the change of plan could be easily done, without exceeding the schedule or budget of the state-funded demolition. "We just need to amend the agreement with the city," said Edward C. Cline, the authority's deputy director. Nearly $10 million was allocated to level the entire stadium and clear the 30-acre North Baltimore site. At least $750,000 has been spent on sustaining the wall.

How to handle the 10-story wall, built in 1954 with a lettered dedication to veterans, became a problem for O'Malley in March, when he agreed to keep the facade to avert a lawsuit by Preservation Maryland.

The compromise -- forged by the site's developer, neighbors and preservationists who advocated reusing the horseshoe-shaped stadium where the Baltimore Colts and Orioles played -- involved keeping only the wall.

The rest of the 30-acre site would be cleared for a YMCA and for the Govans Ecumenical Development Corp., a church-based nonprofit organization, to build a senior housing community. But Preservation Maryland filed a lawsuit anyway, provoking the mayor's ire.

"Silly me, trying to compromise," O'Malley said yesterday in an interview in the War Memorial Building, where he participated in a dedication ceremony for the new "United We Stand" postage stamp.

GEDCO's president, the Rev. John R. Sharp, asked city officials in August to reconsider the compromise, but the deal started to unravel this fall, when the Maryland Veterans Commission voted to support the construction of a memorial downtown along a pedestrian promenade between the football and baseball stadiums.

"From our standpoint, there isn't enough [state] money to shore up the old wall and build a new memorial that would be visible to tens of thousands of people, in a more prominent place than just driving down 33rd Street," said Col. Erwin A. Burtnick, a veterans commissioner.

Preservationists reacted angrily yesterday to the prospect of a demolished wall.

John Maclay, president of Baltimore Heritage, said, "I'm very much disappointed, because the mayor made a promise, and I think he should stick to it. I don't see why we should lose one of the icons of Baltimore, a trademark of the city in the eyes of the country."

"Given recent events which have besieged our country, it's hard to understand how anyone could be in favor of demolishing a war memorial," said Elise Butler, a Preservation Maryland spokeswoman.

Janet Marie Smith, an architect who directed the Oriole Park design, suggested the faM-gade might have made a fourth wall for the YMCA facility. Smith attended a meeting in City Hall Wednesday in which 15 or 20 people voiced views. "I left thinking that GEDCO never tried to incorporate the wall in their plans, in effect saying, `by sheer force of inaction we'll doom it.'"

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