As Bayhawks Stadium plan grows, approval in Annapolis looms large

While there are public meetings being held about the proposed Chesapeake Bayhawks stadium and fields project, it will take approval from multiple state agencies and the Anne Arundel County Council before anyone puts a shovel into the dirt.

Talks are still early for the estimated $200 million proposal, which now includes more than a dozen fields, a new stadium for the professional lacrosse franchise, an amphitheater, retail and hotel buildings and a new ramp from Interstate 97. It’s an ambitious project that would revamp the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds and the old Crownsville Hospital Center. The Bayhawks currently play at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

The hospital center is a dilapidated complex of buildings on 500 acres with an insidious history: it was built to house only black patients, who were treated poorly and experimented upon. At one point it was called The Hospital for the Negro Insane, but in the final decades of its history served as an integrated psychiatric hospital.

The state has long tried to revitalize the area, but lead and asbestos issues have made it difficult. The state spends about $1 million annually maintaining the site.

Enter the Chesapeake Bayhawks, the Major League Lacrosse team.

“It is a much bigger use and community entertainment initiative than it is a home for the Bayhawks,” said Mark Burdett, Bayhawks president. “People have learned … nobody wants to go to a venue in the middle of nowhere. You need to create value around it with uses in conjunction to the venue.”

In March, the Bayhawks proposed plans to build a 10,000 seat stadium at the hospital grounds. But as they began looking at how to make it economically feasible, the project ballooned to three phases. An official proposal has not been submitted to the state.

The first phase would be a 6,000-seat amphitheater with 2,400 parking spots on the fairgrounds. Phase two would bring in 20 youth sports fields alongside biking and hiking paths on the hospital center grounds. Phase three brings in the 10,000-seat stadium, which would be the country’s first built specifically for a Major League Lacrosse team. The Bayhawks organization hopes to begin using the amphitheater by 2020.

The plans are still in flux as engineers crunch numbers. The Bayhawks organization hopes to be in lease negotiations by March or May.

“The casserole is not fully baked on that front,” Burdett said. “We have been able to float some ranges in economic impact and tax implications.”

Since the project grew to include the county fairgrounds and the Crownsville property, the Bayhawks have been working with two different state agencies: the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Health. The DNR owns the county fairgrounds, and currently leases it to the Anne Arundel County Fair. The Health Department owns the hospital property, which it leases to a variety of nonprofit groups.

The Bayhawks would work with the fair committee and work to preserve historic artifacts and relics on the hospital grounds, Burdett said.

DNR officials said no formal proposal has been submitted that would change its lease with the fair.

If the Bayhawks get approval from the state agencies, the Board of Public Works would ultimately be asked to approve the project. The board is made up of Gov. Larry Hogan, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot and state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp.

Burdett said he plans to continue meeting with the community about the project as it evolves and goes through the state process. The Bayhawks held a Nov. 30 community meeting where representatives fielded questions about the project and listened to area residents’ concerns.

Major concerns expressed by those residents have been traffic generated by the large development as well as the environmental impact. They also expressed frustration the Bayhawks organization does not have hard figures on how much money taxpayers would need to put forward for the project to advance.

The Bayhawks plan to fund the project in partnership with the Maryland Stadium Authority, which would issue bonds backed by the state and sold to private investors. The Bayhawks would be the primary tenant of the stadium and would pay back the bonds over time.

Burdett said the Interstate 97 ramp would help with some of the traffic. A pair of two-lane roads currently provides access to the fairgrounds and the hospital site, Generals Highway and Crownsville Road. Only Generals Highway connects directly to area highways. The project also would focus on special events and the plan does not call for much of an impact on daily traffic.

Getting the state on board isn’t the only requirement for the plan. If the state were to agree to the project, the Anne Arundel County Council would still get a say.

County growth and development plans deemed the Generals Highway a slow growth area, meaning the county isn’t focusing development along the highway.

The area also would need to be rezoned to accommodate the stadium, fields and commercial uses.

“Something needs to be done with the property,” said Owen McEvoy, a spokesman for County Executive Steve Schuh. “But at the same time, they have to figure out how to do it without affecting the lives of people living on General’s Highway.”

The hospital grounds currently aren’t empty. Some of the buildings have been re-purposed for nonprofit organizations, including the Robert A. Pascal Youth and Family Services and Gaudenzia, which operate drug and alcohol treatment services.

It isn’t clear how the project would impact those organizations at this time as the state will ultimately decide the fate of the building.

Another nonprofit at the facility is the Anne Arundel County Food & Resource Bank. The food bank may need to move if the Bayhawks project is approved, said Foodbank treasurer Rich Dobry.

The organization has been in communication with both the state and county on how to handle that outcome, Dobry said.

“Despite what happens, the food bank isn’t going to close,” Dobry said.

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