|Final Score: Wrecking Ball
Razing Memorial Stadium
|A wrecking ball is flattening Memorial Stadium. (Photo by Kim Harris)|
Tuesday, May 15, 2001
BALTIMORE - A wrecking ball is scheduled to reduce
Memorial Stadium to rubble by September to make way for a retirement community.
For activists who fought to preserve the stadium,
this amounts to the loss of a beloved landmark.
For the company redeveloping
the site into
Stadium Place, it’s an opportunity to bring affordable
senior housing to Baltimore.
Winning the Fight
“They thought we were going to fail, but we didn’t, and we have a right, with the city, to develop that
land,” says Julia Pierson, executive director of Govans Ecumenical Development
Corp., a nonprofit, church-based development group building Stadium Place with
Presbyterian Home Inc.
|Stadium Place Plans (Courtesy
The new development will provide about 500 senior citizens with
low-cost senior housing, health care and personal services.
Housing options will
include 30 cottages, 320 one- and two-bedroom apartments and an 80-unit assisted
A YMCA will also be built on the site and provide daily
programs and services for seniors and the community.
The Fight to Save a Landmark
"We recognize that we were late in the game, for one,” says
Tyler Gearhart, executive director of Preservation Maryland, ticking off reasons
his group lost the legal battle to save the stadium. “But we thought that
it would be a real tragedy to have it torn down.”
The 50-year-old stadium had a rich past: It had been home to the
Baltimore Orioles baseball team and the Colts and Ravens football teams.
But by 1998, the Orioles had moved to Camden Yards and the Ravens had moved to PSINet Stadium,
and Memorial Stadium stood
The city solicited redevelopment bids, and Stadium Place was among the
three that came back. It was the only proposal that called for demolishing
Johns Hopkins also submitted a plan: to redevelop the
stadium into a research park.
Another reuse proposal came in from Struever
Bros., Eccles and Rouse Inc. It called for using the site for housing, a supermarket, bank, ice
skating rink and health center.
The four neighborhood associations in the stadium community sided with
Stadium Place, and Daniel Henson, then commissioner of the Baltimore City Housing Commission,
signed off on the deal, a spokesman says.
Former governor William Donald Schaefer, a member of the state Board of Public Works
which was asked to allocate money for the stadium's demolition, tried to
explain why the two reuse plans failed. “The first proposal [Johns Hopkins] was not well presented,”
He added that developers of the senior project "came in and
said we would be able to start building right away. I think they [the
community] were really impressed."
Pierson said some area residents were against the Struever Bros.
retail proposal because they feared it would compete with other shopping centers
in the area. She said the community favored a residential solution for the
site, and city officials based their decision on that.
Schaefer said it's a shame, since that meant the stadium had to come down.
"It is so easy to tear things down," he said. "It is so
difficult to keep them up."
The Fight Intensifies
As the story about the stadium's impending demolition hit the
papers late last year, the phones started ringing at Preservation
Maryland’s office. People who found out late about the plans wanted
to know what 11th-hour action could and would be taken.
|Memorial Stadium (Photo by Kim Harris)|
Preservation Maryland spent three months lobbying the Maryland Board of
Public Works to vote against releasing funds to demolish the stadium. But
when the board met in January, it voted 2-to-1 to allocate the $5.85
million to the Maryland Stadium Authority. Schaefer,
the state comptroller, cast the only dissenting vote.
Preservation Maryland immediately appealed to the city’s Department of Housing and Community
Development, but that appeal failed. The group also filed an unsuccessful request in Baltimore Circuit Court to stop the
It tried one more legal tactic: It appealed to U.S. District Court in
Baltimore, arguing the stadium was historic and should be saved.
Unfortunately, Gearhart said, "the judge did not agree with
Baltimore City Solicitor General Thurman Zollicoffer explained: "The judge said they did not have
standing.... The judge [also] said
that he was not sure if they would prevail on the merits of their
Preservation Maryland did score one victory: It reached an
agreement with the developer and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley to save the
116-foot-tall facade facing 33rd Street, built in homage to
World War II veterans.
There is still a question as to which group will be in charge of
the facade's upkeep. Because the stadium is owned by the city, it's
"ultimately the city's responsibility," says Ed Cline, deputy
director of the Maryland Stadium Authority. He was expected to meet with city officials
to try to resolve the issue.
A Deal Is a Deal
Pierson says she
understands Baltimore's attachment to the stadium.
“I’m a Baltimorean. My heritage is with this stadium. I went
to games as a kid.…. [But] we made a decision as a city, democratically, that we were going
to take this stadium down. And we put our resources in new stadiums
"So, although it is sad that a piece of our heritage is being torn down, it is a
decision that we made," Pierson says.
The developers have not yet signed any seniors for Stadium Place, but officials say they have about 400
people who have expressed interest. Norma Jean Moore, a GEDCO volunteer, is one of
Moore says Stadium Place is "not just a place for old people, but sort of a new,
provocative plan." The mix in housing options and the potential for diversity of people
living and playing at Stadium Place was also a big attraction for her.
The YMCA will offer programs for the young and old.
It is expected to be completed spring or summer of 2003--about a year
after Stadium Place opens.
Copyright © 2001 University of Maryland College of
Journalism. Text and limited photos available, with permission and credit,
for use by Capital News Service clients.
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