Judge clears obstacle to city sports complex

Condemnation upheld on site also eyed for slots

May 01, 2008|By John Fritze | John Fritze,Sun reporter

Baltimore may proceed with a proposed sports complex development south of the city's baseball and football stadiums after a Circuit Court judge ruled yesterday that an earlier condemnation settlement will stand.

The yearlong battle over the property -- which began when the city sued to take it through eminent domain last year -- has been noteworthy in part because the city has said the property is also a leading site for a slots casino.

Baltimore Development Corp., which oversees development for the city, sought proposals to develop the 11-acre warehouse district, which is roughly bounded by Russell Street and the Patapsco, and is south of M&T Bank Stadium.

In December 2006, the city selected Cormony Development to build a $250 million office and sports complex on the property. In April 2007, the city filed a condemnation lawsuit against Warner Street Inc., the owner of several of the properties on the site. In October, the city told The Sun that the property is a leading site for a slots casino, if voters approve a gambling expansion in a November referendum. The city, unsure of the referendum outcome, is still moving forward with Cormony's Gateway South project.

Warner Street Inc. and the city settled the lawsuit in February after the city agreed to pay $7.8 million for the properties, but Warner Street reinitiated the lawsuit because, in part, it did not know the full scope of the proposed Gateway South project when it settled.

After a 45-minute trial yesterday, the court tossed out that argument and ordered that the original settlement would stand. Warner Street officials said it is too early to say whether they will appeal.

Lawrence P. Hillman, president of Warner Street, said the city muscled its way into taking the property and frequently did not provide key documents, such as an explanation for how the property would ultimately be used.

"They did not act in good faith," he said. "The ends justified the means -- that has been entirely the way they acted."

Peter C. Ismay, a chief solicitor for the city, said in court that the city "was acting in good faith," but he declined to comment after the ruling.

The Gateway South project would include two large office buildings, one of which would be a football-shaped tower, and a sports complex with playing fields and other activities such as indoor golf, a fitness center and a swim club.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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