Sale of Memorial Stadium site OK'd

State allows city to sell land to Govans nonprofit

October 03, 2002|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

After four years of sometimes angry debate over the future of the Memorial Stadium site, a church-based nonprofit prevailed yesterday as the state Board of Public Works approved the city selling the property to Govans Ecumenical Development Corp. for $728,000.

Construction of a mixed-income senior housing community for 500 is slated to begin on the eastern edge of the 30-acre cleared parcel this fall, GEDCO officials said yesterday. Work on the city's largest YMCA recreational facility will begin on the southwest corner in the spring.

The cost will exceed $45 million, the developers estimated, with funds raised from private and public sources.

In the vote yesterday, State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, despite reservations, joined Gov. Parris N. Glendening in supporting the GEDCO/YMCA proposal that Mayor Martin O'Malley, city officials and area community leaders have backed since the late 1990s.

"I don't think this is the conclusion I would have come to, but I believe the process was fair," said Kopp, who became treasurer in February and who earlier had asked for more time to study the deal. "I came in at the end of the conversation."

Kopp said she shared the economic concerns of Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, the third board member, who railed yesterday against "the greatest economic mistake the city ever made."

The vote by the board was 2-0, with Schaefer abstaining.

"You have a big playground in an area where you could make money," Schaefer said, shaking his head in disgust. Schaefer and preservationists opposed demolishing the storied stadium and unsuccessfully tried to stop it in court last year.

State Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore Democrat speaking for GEDCO, conceded that the intended uses would not produce sizable tax revenue, but insisted the community needs a fresh infusion of social resources.

"We need this as a stabilizer," Conway told the board. "We need to care for our youth and for our elderly in their housing."

Schaefer pointed out that GEDCO does not have all its financing, and will build only a federally financed apartment building for low-income seniors in the first phase.

YMCA President Lee Jensen said yesterday that the organization has raised half of the $10.2 million needed for its building and is receiving its portion of land from the city free.

The Rev. John "Jack" Sharp, GEDCO president, was confident about raising the rest of the required millions in loans, grants and gifts on a years-long timetable and said he had visited several churches recently to enlist their aid. The Church of the Redeemer in North Baltimore contributed $80,000, he said.

State officials said the land will be sold and developed incrementally, allowing the city to retain control over undeveloped portions until GEDCO completes its project.

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