Miracle needed on East 33rd Street


Forty-three-year-old Memorial Stadium, the much-beloved home of professional sports in Baltimore, will close for good on Sunday after the city's National Football League Ravens play their last home game there.

After the Orioles' finale there six years ago, (before they flew off to Camden Yards, too) the Mayor's Memorial Stadium Task Force called for the immediate demolition of the stadium. That proved to have been a shortsighted response for Memorial Stadium went on to have a productive afterlife.

A busy stretch

Over five years, several teams called it home at some point, including the minor-league baseball Baysox, the Canadian Football League's Stallions and, most recently, the Ravens. Would the NFL Cleveland Browns have moved to Baltimore without Memorial Stadium serving as an interim playing field?

It may be shortsighted now to think that the only recourse the state has is to totally demolish the stadium, which has tremendous sentimental value to Baltimoreans as the longtime home of the football Colts and the Orioles.

I am surprised that veterans' groups have not called for preserving the stadium's front facade in some manner. After all, it is a memorial to servicemen who died in World War I and II. To paraphrase the inscription on its front facade, has time dimmed the glory of their deeds?

It may sound bizarre, but I wish planners and architects would view Memorial Stadium not as a structure, but as an immense landscape feature in Northeast Baltimore. Instead of plowing down this steep horseshoe shaped hill, why not build upon it and along its sides.

Imagine Israeli-born architect Moshe Safdie-inspired stepped houses on the upper deck. (Mr. Safdie designed Coldspring New Town in Northwest Baltimore.) Moderate-size apartment/office buildings could be constructed along the current exterior walls mimicking offices above the main ticket window.

The playing field and unobstructed lower-deck seating could be retained and occasionally used for amateur sporting events. Neon artwork could be installed to decorate the light towers. Restoring the front war memorial and landscaping the parking lot completes this vision.

Unfortunately, I have been told by some experts that my grand vision belongs to the "bizarro" world, not the reality of Baltimore at the end of the 20th century.

On second thought

In that case, I propose alternative Number 2: Retain only the front facade and build a new arena on this site.

Everybody knows that downtown's Baltimore Arena has been obsolete since it opened as the Civic Center in 1962. The Washington area has two arenas -- the US Airways Arena in suburban Landover and the new MCI Center downtown. Doesn't Baltimore deserve at least one? Why not build it on East 33rd Street?

An arena could be built behind the existing front entrance taking up approximately one-fourth of the present footprint of the stadium. A clever engineer could hang the roof from the existing concrete front facade, creating an exciting architectural statement.

An appropriately designed three-level parking garage -- with one level below ground -- could be built on the existing parking lot. Landscaping along the perimeter of the development would act as a buffer between the arena and surrounding housing.

Not In My Back Yard

Yes, some of the people living near Memorial Stadium will go ballistic at the idea of crowds for basketball games and concerts coming to their neighborhoods.

Of course, an arena would have many more event dates than the 10 NFL home games scheduled there this past year. However, an arena would have a maximum capacity of 20,000. (The MCI Center seats 20,500.) The Ravens brought as many as three times as many people to the stadium for a single game.

One way to deal with the crowds is to implement residential parking by permit only on neighboring streets. Also, the subway could be extended to Memorial Stadium to reduce the amount of vehicular traffic in the area during an event.

The state could partially finance this new Memorial Stadium Arena by razing Baltimore Arena for much-needed downtown parking. The Downtown Partnership has called for creating 1,500 new downtown parking spaces in the next three years. The tTC current parking garage on the southern end of the Arena can hold about 900 cars. If the entire site were redeveloped for parking, it could handle about 3,000 cars.

Such a large garage would be convenient for office workers commuting to downtown, students attending the University of Maryland downtown campus, visitors to the Baltimore Convention Center and fans attending sporting events at Camden Yards.

Revenues generated from such a large garage would not only pay for its construction and operation, but also help finance the new state-of-the-art Memorial Stadium Arena.

Then, all we would need to do is get a National Basketball Association franchise for the new arena. What would we name the team? The Bullets, of course. No one else is using that name.

Fred B. Shoken, a historian, writes an occasional series for this page that examines underused properties in Baltimore, suggesting how they can be redeveloped.

Pub Date: 12/12/97

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