Camden Station renovation gets preliminary approval


January 16, 2003|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

The long-awaited renovation of Camden Station received a boost this week when lawmakers gave preliminary approval to an $8.5 million plan to rehabilitate the historic downtown structure to house commercial offices and a regional sports museum.

The station, from which the adjacent Camden Yards stadium complex got its name, was cosmetically repaired when Oriole Park opened in 1992. But various plans for its reuse came and went with no action while the empty shell deteriorated.

The Legislative Policy Committee, which consists of the top-ranking members of the General Assembly, on Tuesday approved in concept a proposal by the Maryland Stadium Authority.

The stadium authority, which owns the building, came up with a financing plan in consultation with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s transition team that requires virtually no upfront state money, unlike previous versions. The plan calls for $8 million to be raised by the sale of bonds, backed by rents charged to tenants, and $500,000 from a federal program that finances historic preservations of railroad stations.

"I'm excited to finally get it going," said stadium authority executive director Richard Slosson.

The legislative committee approved a change of use for the building but rejected the stadium authority's request for $3 million in lottery funds to pay for the work and withheld final approval of the all-bond financing plan pending a review of financial terms. The bond sale also will require approval by the Board of Public Works.

"It's been a long time and we're very excited this is moving again," said Michael Gibbons, executive director of the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum, which will build and operate the sports museum inside Camden Station.

He has raised about $4 million in donations for the $6.1 million project, which will display artifacts from native son Babe Ruth as well as late Colts great John Unitas and late Sun and News American sportswriter John Steadman. Gibbons also has contacted the University of Maryland about housing Terrapins material.

Under the new plan, the museum will occupy 24,000 square feet on the first floor and basement of the station, while a commercial office tenant will be sought for the remaining 16,000 square feet. Past proposals called for a restaurant, something that drew objections from the Orioles and has been dropped - a change the legislative committee approved Tuesday.

Work could begin this summer and be complete by 2005.

"This is a project that will not only serve as the region's best sports museum but will also pay homage to the tremendous Civil War history of Camden Station," Gibbons said.

The station, opened in 1856, was one of the grandest rail facilities in the nation and a gateway for cargo moving through the Port of Baltimore to a growing nation.

Abraham Lincoln passed through it at least twice, to get to his inaugural and on his way to deliver the Gettysburg Address. His funeral car also stopped there on its way to his burial in Springfield, Ill.

In 1954, the newly minted Orioles made their grand entrance to the city at the station, returning from a season-opening series in Detroit before their first home game at Memorial Stadium.

The Babe Ruth Museum will retain its current home, a rowhouse on Emory Street where Ruth's family lived when he was born in 1895, Gibbons said.

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