City, O's agree on stadium walkway

Path will be built so fans can bypass hotel-construction site

March 25, 2006|By BRENT JONES | BRENT JONES,SUN REPORTER

The Baltimore Orioles, upset that construction of a city-owned hotel blocks a gateway to the stadium at Camden Yards, agreed yesterday to a city plan for a walkway skirting the development site, making it easier for fans to get to home games.

The agreement was announced moments before a scheduled hearing in Circuit Court and prompted the Orioles to drop a lawsuit that the team filed against the city this week.

A 25-foot-wide walkway will be built along Howard Street on the west end of the future site of the 752-room, city-financed Hilton Hotel going up in a parking lot next to the Convention Center. The walkway will be covered.

The Orioles had sought an injunction to force the opening of Eutaw Street between Pratt and Camden streets in front of Babe Ruth Plaza for two hours before and after games. That section of street, the primary entryway into the baseball stadium, has been closed since January.

Lawyers for the Orioles argued that the closing creates hazardous detours for hundreds of thousands of fans, starting when the season opens April 3. The city presented its counter proposal to Orioles lawyers Thursday, and a deal was worked out yesterday.

"I think we've reached the point of a happy conclusion that really occurred because of the reasonableness of all the sides involved," Circuit Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan said in court after learning of the deal and canceling a hearing.

City Solicitor Ralph S. Tyler called the Orioles lawsuit unnecessary and rejected contentions by team attorneys that the city was not forthcoming in saying Eutaw Street would be closed. He said he had planned to propose an alternative pedestrian route all along.

"It's always been clear in all the documents that Eutaw Street would remain closed," Tyler said in an interview. "The Orioles' argument is just not correct. We don't think it was necessary to come to court, but we can't control when people sue us. They accepted our plan, if you want to call that an agreement."

Tyler said that having to shift construction inward 25 feet to accommodate the walkway will cost the city more money, but he was not sure how much.

Russell Smouse, a lawyer for the Orioles, said filing the suit was the only way to get the city to come up with such a solution. Smouse said the city offered no alternatives to closing Eutaw Street when the sides met two previous times.

"Until the city filed the report Thursday, they had no plan whatsoever to deal with the [pedestrian] traffic," Smouse said. "When we met with them March 9, their only solution was existing walkways."

Although the suit has been dropped, Arnold Weiner, also a lawyer for the Orioles, said the team will watch how ticket holders get in and out of the stadium.

In a study done by the team, the Orioles estimate that 16,800 ticket holders - in games attended by more than 40,000 fans - leave within the first 15 minutes the last pitch through the north entrances near the hotel site. Weiner said if people choose to use Paca Street instead of the new walkway, a new solution might be necessary because the road would be clogged.

"We're going to monitor the crowds as they leave the ballpark ... [to see] that there will be an orderly flow," Weiner said. "Our questions are going to be whether the newly constructed walkway can be accessed easily as they leave through the Eutaw Street exit."

Kaplan said he would mediate if a new problem occurs.

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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