Pushovers leave field wide open for Ravens


WHO CAN BLAME the Ravens for trying to squeeze every last bit of booty out of the state of Maryland, the city of Baltimore and now, the people of Baltimore County? The Ravens got it good here in Chumptowne. Whatever they want, they get. The Modell family could put together a scrapbook, titled "Great Chumps We Have Known," and it would contain the photographs of most of our elected officials of the past 10 years.

We built the Ravens a stadium. We let them sell the name of the stadium. We let them sell personal seat licenses. We let them lease a practice facility from the city for $1 a year. They used Fred Bouchat's logo design for three years and refused to pay a penny for it. The Ravens have had it pretty good here.

Now the fearless men of the Baltimore County Council are about to give up valuable parkland in Owings Mills so the Ravens can build a 120,000-square- foot office building, four outdoor football fields, one indoor field and a 300-space parking lot. (Hey, football players are bigger than ever and they need more space.)

This development will take place in Northwest Regional Park, land the county acquired just a few years ago for $5.2 million, using funds from the state's Program Open Space.

Program Open Space -- sounds like an eighth-grade class project.

It's actually a great state program with a simple premise: help local governments acquire land to keep open space open or, at the most, reserved for public recreation, such as playgrounds and athletic fields.

But with this sweetheart deal the County Council is about to approve, 32 acres of that open space in Owings Mills, near Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area, will become the corporate headquarters of a for-profit sports franchise.

And the county will chip in $2.3 million to extend water and sewer lines into the Ravens' development.

All of this spares the Ravens the financial pain of buying expensive Owings Mills land and paying property taxes on it.

Instead, the Ravens will lease the public land from the county for $233,000 a year for 25 years. The franchise will build a $200,000 football field with lights for youth football teams.

That's nice, but it's still the short end of the stick for county residents, and I'm not talking money. Money isn't the measure in this matter.

This parkland was acquired for the people of Owings Mills when residential and commercial development in the area threatened to turn the entire 21117 ZIP code into a mess of office buildings, townhouses, boulevards, exit ramps and malls. Open space is at a premium in Owings Mills. That's why the county -- using funds from Program Open Space -- had to pay top dollar to get it out of private hands in 1997.

"We bent over backwards to acquire that land for parkland," Vince Gardina, the councilman from Perry Hall, said yesterday.

The defense of this deal is a pip.

We have people saying with a straight face that it's OK to use Program Open Space land because the Ravens are going to "allow public access three days a year."

Like, big whoop.

The spokeswoman for the county executive boasted about this promise the other day, and yesterday I heard Chip Price, the director of Program Open Space, say it. He was serious.

The Ravens will allow the public into their facility three whole days a year -- apparently for some kind of youth sports camps run by people connected to the Ravens -- and that's why the county can justify giving up land acquired with Program Open Space money.

Of course, the other 362 days the public will not be allowed into the place -- and that's what makes this deal a crass violation of the spirit of Program Open Space. The Ravens will be building athletic fields, but mostly for themselves. There's very little open about this open space, baby.

But look, even in this era of corporate greed and scandal, we give the Ravens everything they ask for. Though some of the fearless men on the County Council criticized this deal, they're going to pass it anyway. They're afraid the Ravens will move to Glen Burnie if they don't.

Accommodated by such wimps, I don't know why the Ravens stopped where they did.

According to Gardina, there are another 18 acres in Northwest Regional Park that could be developed.

So the Ravens could take it for, say, a Ray Lewis fur vault. Three days a year, the public could come in and look at a wax likeness of Ray adorned in dead animals.

There's room for the Brian Billick Motivational Center, and three days a year he could run a free camp, teaching the youth of our society how to speak like one of those guys on infomercials.

I could see a golf course just for the Ravens, with three days allowed for members of the general public to caddy for the players.

And, look, Soldiers Delight is nearby; it's just a bunch of trees and grasslands. The Ravens should demand to have it for a paintball course. The players would love it, and paintball is a great male-bonding, team-building experience. The Ravens are crazy if they don't go for it.

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