County Council likely to OK lease of parkland to Ravens

Training facility planned for Owings Mills space

July 31, 2002|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County councilmen criticized yesterday a proposal to lease 32 acres of parkland to the Baltimore Ravens for a new training facility, calling it a "sweetheart deal" for the team, but said they will likely pass it anyway.

Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat, expressed the strongest opposition to the deal, saying he thought it was inappropriate to lease parkland to a for-profit business.

"I think that's the issue that really stings here, that we have a private business ... locating here in a sweetheart deal in a public park, purchased with [state] Project Open Space dollars," he said at the council's work session yesterday.

Under the terms of the deal, worked out by County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger's administration, the Ravens would pay about $8 million over the course of a 25-year lease for 32 acres that were purchased as part of the Northwest Regional Park in Owings Mills. The deal includes three 10-year renewal options.

The bulk of the park was bought in 1997 for $5.2 million, about two-thirds of which was state Program Open Space funds, which are intended to pay for state and local parks and conservation areas.

Robert L. Hannon, the county's economic development director, said county officials have been in contact with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, which administers open space funds, and have gotten tentative approval for the plan.

A significant factor in that approval is the Ravens' promise to allow public use of their facilities at least three days a year for coaches' or players' camps or other programs, said county spokeswoman Elise Armacost.

As for the contention that putting a private business in a public park is a bad precedent, Armacost pointed to a few examples of when that has been done. The Oregon Grill, for example, is on Oregon Ridge Park land, she said.

Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat, said he, too, had concerns about the proposal initially, but faced with the realization that the Ravens - and the local pride and tax revenue they generate - would likely leave the county otherwise, he decided to support it. "Is it a sweetheart deal? Yes, but it's a unique entity," he said. "There is only one NFL football franchise here."

He added that a clause in the contract giving the county one-third of naming-rights revenue for the training facility could be a significant financial benefit.

Gardina said if the park was in his district, he would vote against the deal, but in this case, he would defer to the judgment of the councilman who represents the area where the facility would be located. That's Catonsville Democrat Stephen G. Samuel Moxley, who said he will vote for the deal.

Heads of the recreation councils in that part of the county said they don't oppose giving up part of the park for the Ravens. David L. Smylie, president of the Liberty Road Recreation Council, said residents in the Randallstown area are particularly pleased by the Ravens' promise to construct a lighted football field in a public section of the park adjacent to their camp.

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