Roller rink, Baltimore County reach deal

11th-hour agreement means Skateworks will stay open

  • The scores of teens leaving the Friday session at Skateworks in Woodlawn have been a major concern for Baltimore County police and local merchants.
The scores of teens leaving the Friday session at Skateworks… (Colby Ware // Photo for the…)
April 21, 2010|By Mary Gail Hare and Nick Madigan, The Baltimore Sun

Just 90 minutes before a final deadline Wednesday, Baltimore County officials and the owners of Skateworks hammered out a deal that will allow the troubled Woodlawn roller rink to stay open.

During negotiations that continued for most of the day, the owners agreed to hire uniformed police officers on weekend nights, to work more closely with the local precinct and to close at midnight. At 4:30 p.m., permits director Timothy M. Kotroco announced that the county had issued the rink a license to operate for another year.

"We have resolved all the county's concerns and Skateworks has agreed to do what police feel is necessary to curtail problems at the business," Kotroco said. "There was a lot of struggling to get this done, but we now have a win-win for everyone."

County officials supported Skateworks when Barney Wilson, principal of Baltimore's Polytechnic Institute, and three partners opened the business in December 2008.

But since then, police have complained of rowdy crowds and disturbances outside the rink, which is in an industrial park near Security Boulevard. They say Friday nights, when hundreds of youths gather, have been a particular problem.

A county code officer upheld last week the decision of county officials to shut the business down. But code officer Meg Ferguson also granted the owners permission to continue operating while the sides tried to reach an agreement that could keep the rink open. She set a deadline of 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Under the terms of the deal, the Skateworks owners will hire four uniformed police officers to work from 7 p.m. to midnight on Fridays, Saturdays, holidays and special events.

The owners had balked at paying for police protection on Saturday evenings, when they say crowds are younger and more peaceful. Kotroco said the Saturday security requirement will stand for now, but he would be willing to reassess it if experience warrants.

"Above all, Skateworks wants to be a safe haven for kids who don't always have safe places to go," said Paul Gardner, an attorney for Skateworks. "Our overriding concern is to create a safe environment."

The owners will also review their summer schedule with the commander of the Woodlawn precinct and discuss with police any events they anticipate will draw high attendance.

They will be required to close the rink by midnight. But they may host after-prom parties, in which participants are locked in for the remainder of the evening, provided they provide police with security plans well in advance.

"We want to thank Baltimore County officials for working with us," Gardner said. "We are pleased that this resolution satisfies their concerns and ours."

Kotroco said the county never wanted to close the business.

"It is a good use of the space and we can support it within conditions," he said. "All those have been addressed in the agreement."

The rink's future remains clouded by bankruptcy proceedings. The owners listed more than $577,000 in liabilities when they filed for protection from creditors in November.

The business owed $136,266 in back rent, $200,000 to investor Joseph Haw, $150,000 to investor Charles Pratt and $26,000 for roller skates, according to court documents. The owners claimed $634,709 in assets.

The rink's landlord, CRP Holdings Whitehead LLC, said Skateworks had failed to address "breaches of the lease" despite written notices, legal pleadings and oral arguments in court. The landlord estimated that it has spent approximately $30,000 in attorneys' fees and expenses trying to get the rink's operators to comply with their lease.

Wilson attributed many of the financial problems to the sluggish economy and shortened hours of operation. Owners had originally expected to have skate sessions as late as 4 a.m. County code stipulates a midnight closing.

"That meant we lost a third of our anticipated revenue," Wilson said. "It is like telling a restaurant it can serve breakfast and lunch, but not dinner."

Wilson said the partners have sunk about $1 million into the business and expect to weather the bankruptcy.

"Businesses like us are struggling across the country," he said. "We will reorganize, just like other businesses are doing."

The rink has been sued at least 10 times. Five of those suits resulted in judgments against the rink's owners, four are pending, and one was dismissed.

One of the pending suits was filed last summer in Baltimore County Circuit Court on behalf of Travis A. Baxter, 26, who was hit by gunfire outside the rink in February 2009. Baxter contends that Skateworks had inadequate security and a history of police calls; he is seeking $10 million.

Baxter's attorney said this week that he had received no response to his lawsuit from Skateworks' lawyers and that he intends to file for a default judgment as a result.

"They had every chance to respond," attorney Mark A. Epstein said.

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