Time for revised finger-pointing in matter of welfare for Ravens

This Just In...

August 30, 2002|By Dan Rodricks

BALTIMORE County Councilman Vince Gardina called here to say he is not a chump. I listened to the voice message several times and realized that it took a lot of guts to deny - even in the low, self-conscious tones of a late-night telephone call to an empty city room of a newspaper - being a chump. It's the Towsonian version of the Nixonian, "I am not a crook," except, in Gardina's case, the rap don't stick.

What brought this on?

Since last week, Gardina has been receiving letters from constituents who apparently use this newspaper for more than table-coverings at crab feasts. Last week, they read where I called the men of the Baltimore County Council a bunch of chumps for giving up 32 acres of county parkland to the Ravens - the fifth most valuable franchise in the National Football League, according to Fortune magazine, which I read while waiting for my Jiffy Lube - so that they can build a big corporate headquarters and training complex for themselves. And it was parkland the county had acquired for $5.2 million just a few years ago, through the state's Program Open Space, thinking it would be left as, you know, open space.

FOR THE RECORD - This story incorrectly attributed the source of information about the value of the team. Forbes magazine rated the franchise the fifth most valuable in the NFL. (Unpublished correction)

I like the Ravens. But I also like open space. I like Program Open Space.

This program is wonderful in concept and, mostly, in execution.

"When a person buys a house or land, a small percentage of the state real estate transfer tax goes into a special fund for Program Open Space," reads the official explanation. "In this way home buyers help improve the quality of their neighborhoods and the entire state. The support of homeowners and landowners in this effort has resulted in the acquisition of more than 234,000 acres of open space for state parks and natural resource areas and more than 31,000 acres of local park land."

I don't see anything in there about a parking space for Ray Lewis, do you?

A corner office for Steve Bisciotti also is missing from the Program Open Space mission statement.

Go to Program Open Space's Web site and you'll see more statements that don't square with this plan:

"The population of Maryland goes up every year, while the land area remains the same. Seventeen percent of Maryland is developed but only eight percent is protected, publicly owned open space. Growing communities need to save land for recreation and maintain scenic beauty and environmental quality. Open space protected from development today will be available for recreation and natural areas for tomorrow."

Not if local governments give it up for corporate campuses.

Hasn't Maryland's official suck-up to the millionaire owners of this sports franchise gone on long enough?

Apparently the Ruppersberger administration and the County Council didn't think so.

I am not altogether cynical on this subject. Maybe the council members truly believe it is the role of government to subsidize successful businesses so that we might all enjoy the fruits of their enterprise. You know: Trickle it up so it trickles down.

Or maybe it's simpler than that. Maybe Dutch Ruppersberger and the County Council guys were hoping to score some tickets to the Denver game.

The council gave the Ravens a piece of parkland that might have been used for a recreation area and - who knows? - maybe even a municipal golf course.

Instead, it will be used for a one-company corporate office park - "open" to the public three days a year, and then only while someone associated with the Ravens runs a sports camp (or, in Brian Billick's case, a how-to-talk-the-pants-off-Jos.-A.-Bank camp).

The Ravens threw in a youth football field to appease the local community and give the appearance of compliance with Program Open Space usage criteria. But that's such a stretch. What we're talking about is an office park.

I'm old school on this.

I think we have gone far enough with the freebies for sports franchises. If, on top of a stadium and all those personal seat licenses, the Ravens really needed a 120,000-square-foot corporate office, four football fields and an indoor football field, they should have found the land for it on their own. (Or asked the city of Baltimore to clear a few blocks of abandoned houses and built it in the city the team represents.)

But, knowing that many chumps inhabit public office around here, the Ravens leaned on the county for another gimme.

Anyway, when it came time to vote on this land deal, Vince Gardina of Perry Hall was the only member of the Baltimore County Council to vote against it. Which means he was, by Towson standards, a standup guy.

He didn't deserve to be tossed into the chump box with the rest of them.

My bad, Vince.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.