County considers buying athletic club


Baltimore County is considering buying the aging Perring Athletic Club near Hillendale for use as a public indoor soccer and lacrosse facility.

The possible purchase is the newest evidence of County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III's often stated intentions to provide more recreation facilities around the county, if money can be found.

Mr. Ruppersberger engineered the county revenue authority's takeover of public golf in the county as a way of financing more courses. The authority has arranged to purchase a new course in White Hall, in the northern county, and is overseeing construction of an 18-hole course at Diamond Ridge, in Woodlawn.

But the executive said he plans to be cautious about the use of public money.

"We're not going to take [indoor soccer] on unless we can generate a profit," he said this week, calling his plans for more golf and other recreational facilities "a long-term process. There is a tremendous need for indoor soccer-lacrosse and ice-skating rinks."

The Perring club, which has indoor tennis, soccer and racquetball courts, is owned by Dr. Leonard P. Berger, a once-influential county developer and auto dealer who now concentrates on his Ocean City holdings.

The demand for indoor soccer space is strong. Managers of both Baltimore City-owned indoor soccer arenas, in East Baltimore and in Brooklyn, said they turn scores of suburban children's teams away each winter.

William Valentine, a county police officer from Parkville who manages an 8- and 9-year-old-boys team in the Catholic Youth Organization, said his charges use the Perring club now. Last year, however, he said, "We had eight girls teams that wanted to play [at Perring] but were turned away for lack of space.

"I'd like to see a county facility," he said, urging that something be built in addition to the possible acquisition of the Perring club.

Former Baltimore Blast soccer player Keith VanEron said he and several partners, including former Oriole Larry Sheets, were interested in buying the 20-year-old Perring center, but were discouraged by the $1.5 million asking price.

Mr. VanEron, who owns a Cockeysville sporting goods store, said his appraisal set a $700,000 value for the complex. In addition, he said, the three huge barn-like metal buildings need $300,000 to $400,000 in repairs, and limited parking at peak times is a problem.

The asking price and renovation needs would require a level of use for profitability that would overwhelm the roughly 80 parking spaces, he said.

The club's buildings are strung in a line just north of the city-county boundary off Oakleigh Road near Perring Parkway.

One building has four tennis courts. The others contain indoor soccer fields, although overhead lights -- built for tennis -- are so low they often interfere with kicked balls. Five racquetball courts are behind one soccer field, and two locker rooms are in a small lobby area.

The county has obtained its appraisal and sent public works officials to evaluate the building's condition, but county real estate chief Shirley M. Murphy refused to reveal the findings. The matter is on "hold," she said, until Recreation and Parks Director John Webber returns to work next week after moving his family here from Los Angeles.

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