Hotel project worries vendors by stadium

April 03, 2006|By STACEY HIRSH | STACEY HIRSH,SUN REPORTER

Fans heading into today's Opening Day game at Camden Yards may still hear Jeff Ingerman yelling "pretzels, pretzels" or see Junior McCrae peddling his $2 peanuts - but they'll have to look across the street to find them.

Construction of a city-financed hotel on the north side of Oriole Park at Camden Yards has transformed the gateway to the stadium, funneling many fans through a covered walkway and moving about 30 vendors a block or more from their coveted spot outside the park's north entrance on Camden Street. Vendors expect the move to cut sales, which rely wholly on foot traffic, and lower profits this baseball season.

"We're going to lose a good part of our business," said Martin Greenbaum, who has shifted the Orioles hats and baseballs that he has peddled from Camden Street for more than a decade to a stand at Eutaw Street just north of Pratt this season.

Greenbaum, who said vending at games and festivals is his only job, estimated that 40 percent of the fans at each game passed through the area just north of the stadium where he used to sell. At his new spot, he expects far fewer.

Officials in Baltimore's Transportation Department, which designates where vendors can set up, said the relocations are a safety precaution to ease congestion as crowds head to and from games.

`People's livelihoods'

Michael Rice, the deputy director, said the department tried to minimize the economic impact on vendors.

"We've met with the vendors this year. It has not been easy, I can tell you that, because you're talking about people's livelihoods," Rice said.

Vending is not allowed on Camden Street between Paca and Howard streets or on the west side of Howard Street between Camden and Pratt streets, according to an administrative order from the Transportation Department that went into effect Saturday and lasts through baseball season. Vending on the east side of Howard between Camden and Pratt is permitted through the seventh inning.

The vendors are not the first group to express concerns about construction of the Hilton Hotel, scheduled to open in 2008, which will be owned and operated by the city.

Late last month, the Orioles sued the city, contending that hotel construction just outside the main entrance to Camden Yards creates "an intolerable hazard for hundreds of thousands of pedestrians" by forcing them into dangerous narrow pathways or streets with heavy traffic, according to the lawsuit.

A few days later, the two sides agreed that a 25-foot-wide covered walkway would be built next to the construction site on Howard Street to help with the flow of pedestrian traffic, and the lawsuit was dropped.

The hotel is being built on two former parking lots just north of Camden Yards. Most of the 600 spots in the lots were used during Orioles games by season ticket holders. They have been relocated to the other side of the stadium, where buses used to park, according to Orioles and city officials. Other area lots can handle the remaining cars, according to the Baltimore Parking Authority.

The Orioles did not have a say in where the vendors were relocated, said Roger Hayden, director of ballpark operations for the team.

Early signs

While the crowd at today's game will likely be a clearer indicator of what the season will bring for vendors, the men and women pushing peanuts and Cracker Jacks at Saturday's exhibition game were worried that the new rules would hurt sales.

Kevin Dukes was among the dozens of vendors working Saturday, pushing peanuts from the east side of Howard Street. Dukes said he earned $150 a game when he was stationed on Camden Street outside the stadium. This season, he expects to take in $60 a game - though by 4 p.m. Saturday he had made only $23.

"Another half-hour and it's time to go in," he lamented as the first pitch in the Orioles game against the Washington Nationals was fast approaching.

And Junior McCrae, who has been vending outside Camden Yards since the stadium opened, estimated that his new location on the east side of Howard Street between Pratt and Camden would result in sales being cut in half.

"It's like they moved us into the desert," said McCrae, who sells soft drinks and nuts.

But before Saturday's game, McCrae found he had at least two loyal customers willing to travel for his goods. Ellen and Michael Pitroff crossed Pratt Street to buy McCrae's peanuts after they couldn't find his stand on Camden Street. They weren't happy about his move either.

"It's very inconvenient," Michael Pitroff said. "And it's not good for them, because they're going to lose an awful lot of business."

stacey.hirsh@baltsun.com

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