Court halts arena ad swap

Removal of billboard is blocked for 10 days

City, Blast owner made deal

1st Mariner was to get signs, other sites lose them

October 30, 2003|By Paul Adams | Paul Adams,SUN STAFF

The fight over a city ordinance allowing advertising on 1st Mariner Arena re-ignited yesterday as a judge temporarily blocked the city from requiring a billboard in Southwest Baltimore to be taken down as part of a deal with Baltimore Blast owner Edwin F. Hale.

City Circuit Judge John P. Miller issued a temporary restraining order sought by Up-To-Date Laundry, owner of the billboard at 2136 Frederick Ave.

The laundry argued that the city never notified 14 businesses that a new ordinance could force the permanent removal of billboards on their properties as part of a swap to allow advertising on the outside of the arena.

In granting the restraining order, Miller wrote that the "plaintiff's lack of notice and an opportunity to be heard has created an irreparable, immeasurable harm."

The temporary restraining order is for 10 days, after which another hearing on the matter will be held. Attorneys for at least two other property owners are expected to file similar complaints against the city within days.

"The biggest issue is that the city made a decision without notifying the property owners," said Nancy Stair, owner of Up-to-Date Laundry. "I pay my share of city taxes, and I just feel like I was overlooked."

Lawyers for the city said media giant Clear Channel Inc., which leases the billboard from Up-to-Date Laundry, is responsible for deciding which billboards to take down as part of its deal to install new signs on 1st Mariner Arena.

"The city is not a party to the lease and is not involved in that contract," said Sandra Gutman, an attorney in the city solicitor's office.

The case is the latest wrinkle in the move by the city to allow Hale, who owns the naming rights to the arena, and Clear Channel to surround the venue with billboard-sized advertisements for such products as cars and running shoes.

Hale, chairman of 1st Mariner Bank, said he needed the ad revenue to help offset the financial losses of his indoor soccer team.

Owners of surrounding businesses and civic leaders have fought the plan, saying the lighted billboards would be an eyesore.

At issue is an ordinance passed in April that makes an exception to a ban on billboards downtown.

In exchange for allowing 14 four-story high billboards on the arena, Clear Channel agreed to remove billboards from 14 properties it leases throughout the city.

Fred M. Lauer, an attorney for Stair, said the identity of the 14 properties was added to the bill late in the process. The result was that Stair and other affected property owners never got a chance to express their opinions on the matter.

Stair said she knew nothing about the ordinance until she received a letter from Clear Channel last month saying that the company was canceling its lease for the billboard in keeping with provisions spelled out in the city ordinance.

Clear Channel later opted to keep the lease in effect, but Stair continued to pursue the matter.

"This legislation says those signs can still be removed," Lauer said. "Who knows if they couldn't cancel [the lease] again tomorrow."

The ordinance says that once a billboard has been removed, it can't be returned.

A billboard has been on Stair's Frederick Avenue property since 1978.

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