Children wait on lights as Ravens move in

Laws delayed youth field planned near training site

October 14, 2004|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

As the Baltimore Ravens move into their new $31 million home on government-owned parkland, young athletes in northwest Baltimore County are waiting for a lighted football field promised to them as part of the team's deal with the county.

In keeping with the original terms of the Ravens' $8.1 million, 25-year lease with the county, the team had planned to build the lighted field on park property adjacent to its complex while it was building its facility at Northwest Regional Park in Owings Mills. However, county officials said they determined that county law required them to put the job out to bid -- a change in plans that means the field will not be built until next year.

"It's very, very disappointing," said David L. Smylie, president of the Liberty Road Recreation Council, whose sports programs include 11 youth football teams for ages 5 to 13. "We've expressed our displeasure with the county about the process. We're still the only regional park without a lighted field."

The recreation teams rely on a portable, generator-powered light or car headlights during evening practices.

"The sooner the field is done, the better," said Ravens spokesman Kevin Byrne. "We understand there's a government process. We also know the children of the community are going to be excited when they see the field and play under the lights. Probably every member of our team has a memory of playing under lights when they were young."

The Ravens will contribute about $200,000 for the field -- the amount they agreed to spend in their lease and the estimated cost if they had built the field while working on their facility. However, once bids are accepted, the team's contribution will cover only about a third of the cost of building the field separately, county officials said.

"We thought we would be violating the county charter if we didn't seek bids, because it's a construction project on our land for our use," said Robert J. Barrett, director of the county Department of Recreation and Parks.

The Ravens are scheduled to begin practice next week at their new 200,000-square-foot facility, which includes a 100-yard-long indoor field, three outdoor fields, the largest weight room in the National Football League, two racquetball courts, a basketball court and a players' lounge that, among other amenities, has a pool table with purple felt, Byrne said.

In 2002, the Baltimore County Council approved an agreement to lease 32 acres of the park to the Ravens for 25 years, with three 10-year renewal options. They also approved extending water and sewer service to the park -- and to the training facility -- at a cost of about $460,000.

The county bought the 322.7-acre Northwest Regional Park in 1997 for $5.2 million -- about two-thirds of which was covered by state Program Open Space funds, which are intended to pay for parks and conservation areas.

Some councilmen criticized the lease. But, in the end, the council passed it, saying that the Ravens -- and the local pride and tax revenue they would generate -- would leave the county otherwise.

Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat who was the sole dissenter, said he objects to the Ravens moving onto parkland bought with open space funding. "It doesn't matter if they give a lighted park or not," he said. "[The deal's] primary focus is to support private business."

Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat, said that as far as building the lighted field goes, "The key is the obligation is going to be met."

Under the lease terms, the Ravens also agreed to allow public use of their facilities at least three times a year for events such as coaching clinics or big games. The county and team will determine what events and which dates they will be held.

Although a public event probably won't be held at the complex this year, county officials say local businesses will reap immediate economic benefits from the team's move.

"I also think there's benefit just because it brings attention to the community," said Dena Jackson of Randallstown, who, with her husband, coaches a 8-to-10-year-old team. "I'm hoping because of the close proximity, some of the players will come over and spend time with the kids."

Sun staff writer Lisa Goldberg contributed to this article.

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