Board approves new audio, video system

Club, MSA hope for quick work, but `it's going to be tough'

October 18, 2007|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN REPORTER

The Maryland Board of Public Works approved yesterday a settlement between the Orioles and the Maryland Stadium Authority that will clear the way for the installation of new video display and audio systems at Camden Yards.

The club and the stadium authority hope to have the new equipment in place before next season but say they face a tight schedule to finish the work by then.

Next week, the stadium authority will host manufacturers of video and audio equipment at Camden Yards. The companies will deliver prospective construction schedules and prices, and the club and authority will then settle on a final design plan and begin the process of selecting winning bids for the work.

"It's going to be tough, it's going to be close - razor thin," said Alan M. Rifkin, the attorney who negotiated the settlement for the Orioles. "But we're all confident."

The Orioles and the authority will work with a $9 million budget to install a new scoreboard, a new high-definition video screen to replace the failing Sony JumboTron, a new sound system and a control room to operate all the equipment.

The video screen will be more than twice as large as the JumboTron and will be situated above the scoreboard instead of below it. The project also will feature video upgrades to the out-of-town scoreboard and "ribbon" scoreboards on the decks around the park.

"It'll be a much better fan experience," authority chairman Frederick W. Puddester said.

The video screen - which will feature a 16:9 aspect ratio compared with the 4:3 ratio of the JumboTron - also will open new advertising opportunities for the club, Rifkin said.

Both sides hailed the settlement, approved unanimously and without question by the Board of Public Works, as a true compromise.

"I think it's a fair and reasonable settlement for both sides," Puddester said.

Said Rifkin: "The Orioles were quite generous and, as you can see, so was the MSA. It's one of those true moments where a government and a private entity both step forward."

Gov. Martin O'Malley thanked Puddester for his "good work" on reaching the deal.

Under the agreement, the stadium authority will contribute $3.75 million to the park upgrades and also will drop disputed claims for $1.5 million in past rent owed by the Orioles.

The Orioles will allow the authority to pay for the rest of the new video display using $5.25 million from a $10 million fund reserved for ballpark improvements. The team had previously said the stadium authority should not dip into the fund - awarded to the Orioles by an arbitrator in 2001 after a previous dispute with the authority - to pay for the screen.

The club also will waive its right to claim financial damages for advertising revenue lost because the board was outdated and for the costs of spare parts. For the purposes of the agreement, the club valued those and several related claims at $1.5 million, meaning its concession would be equal to the rent concession made by the stadium authority.

The dispute between the authority and the club began almost a year ago, when the authority announced plans to purchase a $1.5 million Mitsubishi DiamondVision board to replace the 15-year-old JumboTron at Camden Yards.

The Orioles said the agency was rushing to buy a board that would be outdated by the time it was installed. The stadium authority said it was happy to buy a bigger board if the Orioles agreed to pick up part of the bill. Agency officials also warned that the Sony screen could fail during the 2007 season. (Though technicians ran perilously low on spare parts, the board never stopped functioning.)

After winning a court injunction in December to block the authority's purchase, the Orioles hired Janet Marie Smith, who helped oversee the construction of Camden Yards, to head a design team that would investigate the park's video and audio needs.

Even as Smith and several technical experts began their work, the Orioles and the authority moved toward arbitration hearings that also included disputes over the formulas used to determine past rent payments.

The sides had picked an arbitration panel and were scheduled to begin courtlike hearings later this fall. But the authority and club sought a settlement, knowing that the chances of getting a new screen installed for the 2008 season would be lessened if they waited for arbitration.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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