Baltimore dedicates Stadium Place

Former field of dreams now holds housing for elderly and a YMCA

September 11, 2004|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

On the hallowed turf where Johnny Unitas passed his way into the Hall of Fame and the Orioles played their way into the World Series, where a future governor watched baseball with his dad and a mayor-to-be courted his future wife, a crowd gathered yesterday to witness what they called the new Miracle on 33rd Street.

City and state officials and leaders of nonprofit, religious and community groups came together to dedicate the first pieces of Stadium Place, a $50 million development with senior housing and a YMCA on the site of the old Memorial Stadium.

The 54,000-square-foot YMCA and 70 units of low-income housing are already open, and another 110 units are expected to be open by Thanksgiving.

Still to come on the 30-acre site: 74 more rental units for low-income seniors, 100 condominiums that will be sold at market rates, an undetermined number of market-rate apartments and an assisted-living facility. The whole project, which also will include a playground and meditation garden, should be completed by 2010, said the Rev. John R. Sharp, who is overseeing the project for Govans Ecumenical Development Corp., a church-based nonprofit organization.

That action is every bit as exciting, officials said, as the football and baseball that brought Baltimoreans to their feet on the same spot.

"We tend to live in the past in Baltimore a little bit," Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. told the crowd, who recalled attending games there with his father. "Today, obviously, is about the future."

Baltimore was not sure it was ready to let go of its past when plans for the complex were unveiled in May 1999. Some preferred alternatives offered by large, more experienced developers who proposed a high-tech research park or a retail center. Others were upset because the project required demolition of the stadium, revered not only for its sports memories but because one wall of it was a World War II memorial.

Comptroller William Donald Schaefer had called the plan a "tragedy." Preservationists went to court to try to save the stadium from the wrecking ball.

But the plan for senior housing prevailed and the stadium was razed in 2001, with backers promoting the complex as a way to honor the now-elderly World War II generation, who could benefit from the housing.

"Their sacrifices, their contributions are here," said Mayor Martin O'Malley, who supported the plan despite his attachment to the old stadium, site of his first date with his wife.

Supported with federal, state, city and nonprofit funding, the project is expected to be a big boost to Ednor Gardens-Lakeside, a middle-class Northeast Baltimore neighborhood that saw housing values slide after the Orioles played their last game there in 1991.

The project was nothing but good news to Cleora McCoy, 66, a retired nursing home aide who grew up in the Northeast Baltimore neighborhood and raised her six children there. In May, she left her old rowhouse in the 5700 block of Maple Hill Road to become the first resident of Weinberg Court on the site.

Along with city and state leaders, McCoy was supposed to address the crowd. But she was overcome by emotion.

"I don't know what to say," she said. "I'm so choked up now. I'm happy."

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