Suit filed to keep `clutter' off arena

Property owners say billboards would menace west-side revitalization

Hale wants to `jazz up' building

April 15, 2003|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

A dozen property owners, including several with multimillion-dollar stakes in redeveloping the west side of Baltimore, filed a lawsuit yesterday in an attempt to block 14 billboards from being erected on 1st Mariner Arena.

The group called the billboards "visual clutter" and said they would be "a serious threat to the success of all our revitalization efforts."

Parties to the lawsuit include some of the biggest names in residential and commercial development in the city: Bank of America, Mercantile Bank, apartment developer and manager Southern Management Co. and real estate developer Artemis Properties Inc., owned by lawyer and Orioles majority owner Peter G. Angelos.

They say the city does not have the authority under state law to change zoning to allow the billboards exclusively on the city-owned 1st Mariner Arena.

At issue is City Council's decision April 7 to amend a 2-year-old billboard ban to allow the arena advertisements. Council also required 14 other billboards around the city to be removed at the same time.

The petitioners asked Baltimore Circuit Court to review the ordinance and stop the billboards while the court considers the case.

"All of them asked the city not to do this," said Ronald M. Kreitner, executive director of the WestSide Renaissance Inc., a business group that represents most of the lawsuit's petitioners. "Up until this point, there has been a concerted effort to remove billboards from the area. ... It definitely sends a negative message to many people who are contemplating living there. It's a step backward in terms of the appearance of downtown."

Improving the appearance of the arena was one of the reasons Edwin F. Hale, chairman of 1st Mariner Bank and owner of the Baltimore Blast soccer team, noted in seeking the billboards.

Hale, whose team plays in the arena, said he thought billboards and naming rights - for which he pays the city a fee - would help him "jazz up" the building.

Clear Channel Communications, hired to sell the 45-by-54-foot illuminated signs, could begin putting up the billboards in a month or so, and Hale said companies including Volkswagen AG, GEICO Corp. and Coca-Cola Co. are possible advertisers.

The billboards would also help Hale offset losses from the soccer team. He said he won't move the soccer team out of the city but needs to increase revenue because he cannot cut costs.

Hale said Angelos had previously asked him not to put up "trashy" billboards on the arena. But Angelos has signs on Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Hale pointed out.

"I'd like to make the building we play in better," said Hale. "For the life of me, I don't understand his motivation. He has those huge signs on the building his [subsidized] team plays in."

Angelos and Baltimore Solicitor Thurman W. Zollicoffer could not be reached for comment.

Petitioners listed in the suit are: MBC Realty LLC, Banc of America Community Development Corp., Charles Plaza LLC, Charlesview LLLP, Park Charles Apartments Associates LLC, Park Charles Office Associates LLC, PGA One Charles Center LP, PGA 210 North Charles Street LLLP, Redwood Square Apartments LP, the Atrium at Market Square LLC, the Marlboro-Classic LP and 120 West Fayette Street LLLP.

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