Leaders of the city's west-side redevelopment effort and other groups turned out yesterday to oppose a City Council bill that would amend a 2-year-old ban on new billboards to allow more than a dozen four-story-tall advertisements on the former Baltimore Arena.
Mayor Martin O'Malley supports legislation that would allow Baltimore Blast soccer team owner Edwin F. Hale Sr. -- a political supporter -- to sell space on 14 billboards on the city-owned arena as a way of offsetting financial losses by the team, which plays there.
But Ronald M. Kreitner, executive director of West Side Renaissance Inc., warned a City Council committee holding the meeting that the enormous billboards on what is now the 1st Mariner Arena would not only undermine the city's ban on such advertising but discourage tenants from moving into the $80 million Bank of America Centerpoint housing and retail project under construction a few hundred feet away.
"The investments being made on the west side were premised upon no billboards, or billboards being removed," Kreitner said. "And now we're talking about the biggest billboards the city has ever seen. ... We have 400 new residential units going in [the Centerpoint project]. This is a quality-of-life issue."
The Land Use and Planning Committee, led by Councilwoman Lois A. Garey, did not vote on the bill, but instead referred it back to the city's law and finance departments for more information. A date is not set for a vote by the council.
Despite streets blocked by snow, about 25 people attended the hearing. Opposing the billboards are Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, Scenic Maryland Inc. and The Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland Inc.
D. J. Ruggles, a real estate affairs representative for Clear Channel Communications which would market the billboards to advertisers, told the committee that raising the 14 "dynamic wallscapes" would not add to the total number of billboards in the city because the company is promising to remove 14 other billboards in city neighborhoods.
Hale, chairman of 1st Mariner Bancorp, told the committee that the old arena building would look better with the 45-foot by 54-foot signs.
O'Malley said after the meeting: "I've never been a fan of billboards out in the neighborhoods. But I think this will liven up this area of downtown."