Problems with insurance jeopardize playground

YMCA needs control to cover stadium site

October 24, 2003|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Concerns about insurance have jeopardized plans to build a community playground on a parcel of the cleared Memorial Stadium site, where a YMCA and senior housing are being constructed.

The YMCA of Central Maryland, one of two redevelopers of the 30-acre property, had agreed to allow a Waverly-based community organization, Community-Built Playground Inc., to build the children's play area on 1 acre. However, the YMCA said this week that it requires control of the playground's governing board to obtain adequate liability insurance and that the community group has balked at relinquishing that control.

"The YMCA's insurer cannot insure anything that is not controlled by the YMCA," an attorney for the YMCA said in a letter sent Wednesday to the Waverly group's attorney.

Plans for the Memorial Stadium site on East 33rd Street include the largest YMCA facility to be built in the city since 1919. In addition, the YMCA's partner in the redevelopment, the Govans Ecumenical Development Corp., plans to build affordable senior housing.

The YMCA agreed to dedicate one of the 13 acres it owns for a community-designed playground, and last year an architect workshop was held with children and adult residents to sketch ideas.

However, the question of which partner, the YMCA or the community group, would have a majority on the playground's governing board has been a point of contention.

Despite the snag, Lee Jensen, president of the regional YMCA, said he is hopeful that a resolution on the playground can be reached within a few weeks.

"We have been working on this for four years, and you don't hang around for four years if you're not serious," Jensen said. He added that the insurance issue has been on the table for a year and a half.

The executive director of the playground group, Debra Evans, said she was not discouraged by the YMCA's recent letter and remains confident that the playground will be built. She said the group plans to raise $250,000 to build it.

"One of the options is to go to the city. We accept that. There's a lot invested in time and money and design," Evans said, referring to a possibility that both sides have raised: If the city were to reclaim the acre, it could obtain the required insurance.

However, a complication is that the Govans group must agree to that, and an official expressed concerns.

"If the city owned [the acre], who's watching it every day to make sure it's safe?" Julia Pierson, the Govans group executive director said yesterday.

The 30 acres became a contentious issue for Northeast Baltimore residents and elected officials before the first brick of the vacant sports stadium fell in 2000. In 1999, the city chose the Govans church-based group, which made the winning pitch with the YMCA, as a partner.

Third District City Councilman Robert W. Curran, in whose district the site is located, expressed impatience.

"It befuddles me why they can't come to common ground," Curran said. "It took a long time to get this project going. It's going to happen; we just have to figure out who insures it."

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