Stadium authority approves Geppi's comic book museum

It would be over Sports Legends site

lease still needs OK from Assembly

June 02, 2005|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Stadium Authority voted yesterday to lease space in Camden Station to Orioles minority owner Steve Geppi for a comic book and pop culture museum.

Geppi's Entertainment Museum would occupy part of the second and third floors at the building, above the recently opened Sports Legends at Camden Yards museum.

The stadium authority approved a 20-year lease at $346,788 a year for the 16,000- square-foot space, similar to the lease the authority approved for the Sports Legends museum. The lease must be approved by the General Assembly's Legislative Policy Committee before becoming final.

In a statement released yesterday, Geppi said it would be premature to announce the museum as a done deal but called the project a "long-time dream."

Stadium authority Chairman Carl A.J. Wright said Geppi's museum would be an ideal complement to the Sports Legends museum.

"I think there's going to be a lot of synergy between the two, and it will only be helpful" to Camden Yards, he said.

Stadium authority officials said they expect the museum to open in about a year.

Some of Geppi's collection is on display at his Timonium-based Diamond Comic Distributors. Though vintage comic books would be a major part of the museum, Geppi's collection also includes animation cels, antique toys, posters and oil paintings.

"It's a very eclectic collection of pop culture pieces," Wright said.

Geppi started with a lone comic book shop on Edmondson Avenue in 1974 and went on to found the world's largest distributor of English-language comic books. He also owns Baltimore Magazine and a minority share of the Orioles.

Though comic collectors and conventions are plentiful, Geppi is entering relatively new territory with his museum devoted to comics. The New York City Comic Book Museum has listed itself as the only such venue in recent years. But it does not have a fixed location and instead displays its collection at events scheduled around New York.

Comic books have gained increased acceptance as a form of modern art. Later this year, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Hammer Museum, both in Los Angeles, will stage an exhibition featuring 15 American comic artists, from Fantastic Four illustrator Jack Kirby to Pulitzer Prize winner Art Spiegelman.

Geppi's museum would be a welcome addition to Camden Station, said Mike Gibbons, executive director of the Sports Legends museum.

"I think this really can help establish Camden Yards as a full-day destination for tourists," he said.

Gibbons said he's viewed the comic book gallery Geppi keeps in his office and termed it "stunning."

"I think most people are rooted somewhere in the comic book world just like they are in sports," Gibbons said. "I think you'll see a wonderful synergy where people come to visit Steve's gallery and spill over to us."

Gibbons said he has not talked with Geppi about creating tickets that would cover admission to both museums but said he envisions packaging the two destinations along with ballpark tours at Camden Yards.

The stadium authority is financing an $8.5 million reconstruction of the station. Executive Director Alison S. Asti said a few other businesses expressed interest in the space Geppi hopes to lease. But she said the stadium authority believed another museum would be a better fit than offices.

"We viewed it as more of an economic development tool," she said. "We want to attract more people to Camden Yards."

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