Restoration of the Roland Water Tower could start by year's end, a community leader said Saturday.
Roland Park Civic League president Phil Spevak said he is optimistic that the league can raise the necessary $1.2 million to $1.4 million to restore the iconic, 107-year-old tower, at the intersection of Roland Avenue and University Parkway in Hoes Heights.
"There are things that make me very hopeful that this is attainable," Spevak said during the Greater Roland Park Chili Cook-off, a fundraiser to benefit the tower. "We've had organizations and people come forward. That makes me optimistic that we have a dynamic."
But he added, "We're not there yet."
State Del. Shawn Tarrant has introduced a $250,000 bond bill for the tower. The bill was first introduced last year, but is believed to have a better chance now.
The eight-sided, 80-foot-tall tower is crumbling at the top under the weight of accumulated pigeon guano. It was deemed structurally sound last year, however, in a city inspection after a rare earthquake in the region.
The cook-off at the Radisson at Cross Keys hotel was expected to raise $2,000 or more for the water tower, organizers Kate Culotta and Martha Marani said.
The cook-off drew an estimated 250 people including City Council President Jack Young, a celebrity judge, council members Mary Pat Clarke and Sharon Green Middleton, and State Sen. Lisa Gladden.
The entries were spicy, but the tower was the hottest star at the cook-off - even hotter than chef Anthony Logan's award-winning "Shut Your Mouth" chili.
"I'd like to see something happen" with the fenced-off tower, said Logan, 60, a longtime Hoes Heights resident, who won the People's Choice award at the cook-off. "I remember when there was no fence and you could walk around."
Friends of the Roland Water Tower set up a display table in the Radisson ballroom and ran a slide show with photos of the tower. Outside the ballroom, 11 contestants served samples of their chili for judges and the public to taste and vote on.
The night's other big winner was Richard Truelove, of Roland Park, whose Tower Chili with pork, beef and beans took the judges' top award.
Chili ingredients ranged from five-pepper bison chili and a smoked brisket chili to a chocolate and chorizo chili and a pulled pork chili with pineapple.
The Radisson donated the ballroom for the cook-off, served its own chili and corn bread, and donated first-place prizes of a night's stay at the hotel.
Most serving pans were scraped clean in two hours, including Roland Park resident John Wolff's two to three gallons of smoked brisket and rib chili.
It cost $125 to make, Wolff said.
"The brisket alone was 50 bucks," said Wolff, who won the second place People's Choice award.
But it was for a good cause.
"You definitely don't do it to be profitable," he said.