Group offers to show stadium project papers to skeptical officials

State board has requested more data before voting on 33rd Street project

September 11, 2002|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Faced with criticism from state officials skeptical of the purchase price, officials of a nonprofit group looking to buy the Memorial Stadium site say they are willing to provide all documents concerning the sale and their proposed development of the prime piece of city real estate.

Govans Ecumenical Development Corp. a church-based nonprofit organization in North Baltimore, is looking in coming weeks to clear its final hurdle, state approval, for the purchase of the East 33rd Street site. City officials have approved GEDCO's proposed $728,000 purchase price, but state officials balked at approving the deal last week, saying they wanted to review GEDCO's business and fund-raising plans.

Leaders at GEDCO expressed disappointment and said they would gladly give the members of the state Board of Public Works - Gov. Parris N. Glendening, state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer - the information requested. GEDCO hopes to build, among other things, housing for 450 to 500 elderly people.

"We are ready to start construction," Julia Pierson, GEDCO's executive director, said Friday. "We hope to start after approval in October, because a lot of senior citizens are waiting."

A final vote on the site was delayed until Oct. 2 by Kopp, who said at a meeting of the Board of Public Works last week that she needed more time and information.

"She wants to make sure their financing is sound, that their financing is in order. That's her main concern," said Brenda L. Walter, a spokeswoman for Kopp. "Since she does have the swing vote, she does want to make sure she makes the right decision."

Glendening has supported GEDCO's proposal, and Schaefer has vociferously opposed it. Walter said Kopp would not be influenced by either of her fellow board members. The stadium site has become one of many flash points between political rivals Glendening and Schaefer.

Conflict has dogged the redevelopment of the 30 acres of city-owned land for years, escalating last year when Mayor Martin O'Malley decided to tear down the memorial wall in favor of a new memorial to be built at Camden Yards.

Judgment reserved

Kopp said Wednesday at a Board of Public Works meeting that she was inclined to follow city officials' recommendation to sell most of the site to GEDCO. But she said she would reserve final judgment on approving the sale of 17 of the site's 30 acres until she had reviewed business and financial documents.

City and state officials said the rest of the site would be given to the YMCA, which would build the largest recreation facility in Baltimore. GEDCO and the YMCA, partners in the redevelopment proposal, estimate the total cost of Stadium Place at $46 million.

GEDCO's Pierson said 700 people are on a list of candidates for the mixed-income housing development, which would include cottages for homeownership, assisted-living units, market-rate housing and federally funded housing for low-income residents.

Federal grant

A $5.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will finance the first building, she said.

The YMCA is covering the cost of its building, estimated at $10.2 million. It is scheduled for completion by late 2004, Pierson said.

To raise the rest of its share, GEDCO will embark on a capital campaign that will include requests for loans from area churches and will regain tax credits from some buildings to finance others, Pierson said. A second federally funded building is planned for a later phase.

Even though the housing community does not have the green light from the Board of Public Works, GEDCO will proceed with a plan to fence in the site, Pierson said.

The demolition of Memorial Stadium, dedicated in 1954 and a mainstay of the Waverly neighborhood for 40 years, was financed with state funds. All proceeds from the sale of the city-owned land will go into Maryland's treasury, state officials said.

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