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Commentaryby Thomas Kelso11:30 amDec 3, 20230

Plans for the redevelopment of Camden Yards began years ago and should stay in the hands of the Stadium Authority

Former MSA chair says a planning process started in 2017 to rethink the entire Camden Yards complex has been hijacked by the Orioles peddling a vague live-work-play idea. [OP-ED]

Above: The 85-acre, state-owned Camden Yards consist of the Orioles and Ravens stadiums, B&O Warehouse (seen alongside Oriole Park), Camden Station and the parking lots on either side of elevated Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. (mdstad,com)

I have been reading with great interest the lively commentary to David Plymyer’s excellent piece about proposed projects at Harborplace and Camden Yards and the need for urban design and community engagement.

I would like to add my perspective as former chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA) and one who was part of the discussion of a comprehensive, transformative vision for these and many other developments underway in downtown Baltimore.

Beginning in 2017, I and senior members of the MSA team began discussions to determine ways to improve the Camden Yards complex.

In 2019, then-Gov. Larry Hogan came to the Camden Yards complex, reviewed the work we had done so far, walked the area and gave us his input on how we might better activate the complex beyond game days.

At the time, plans were already underway for restoration of Lexington Market and the Royal Farms Arena (now CFG Bank Arena), with other private-sector investment to restore properties in the Bromo Arts District.

On the south side of our complex, Stadium Square was nearing completion, and plans were underway for Top Golf, a performing arts center and other amenities between the casino and M&T Bank Stadium, now known as Warner Walk. The Stadium Square development also tied Camden Yards to Federal Hill, itself a popular restaurant and entertainment center.

We envisioned the 85 acres of Camden Yards (the two sports stadiums plus Camden Station, the B&O Warehouse and surrounding parking) as a vibrant whole and key contributor to the revitalization of the west side of downtown Baltimore.

Comprehensive Thinking

We began brainstorming internally on how we might partner with the Ravens and Orioles on development.

We devised the outline for what eventually became House Bill 896, which provided the $600 million in funding for each team to make sure that our stadiums remained the crown jewels right in the heart of the redevelopment area.

In 2020, the Orioles engaged Gensler, a global architecture and planning firm, to look at various options to better utilize the portion of the complex north of Lee Street.

Gensler made numerous suggestions, and MSA worked with the real estate giant Gilbane to determine what these changes might cost. This is where we got the $600 million for each team in HB 896, approved in 2022.

When we negotiated the Ravens lease last year, we got them to agree to join MSA and the Orioles in a total Camden Yards master planning exercise.

In the MOU approved by John Angelos and Governor Wes Moore on September 27, it appears the Orioles are committing to this as well.

Last February, in my final days as MSA chair , I convened a group that included David Bramble from Harborplace, Downtown Partnership, Greater Baltimore Committee, Lexington Market, Hippodrome, Convention Center, Caves Valley Partners, Horseshoe Casino, and the University of Maryland hospital and graduate school complex. The O’s and Ravens also participated.

The idea was to link investments and planning across the entire area (including the ever-vexing issues of parking, traffic and transportation) because that is where transformation can take place – not just the Warehouse, as Angelos and Governor Wes Moore claim.

This group still meets and is now led by David Bramble, who recognizes how important Harborplace is to this entire effort. I am deeply appreciative of his efforts.

Gov. Wes Moore alongside Orioles CEO John Angelos and General Manager Mike Elias at the club's Sarasota, FL., training facilities last March. Moore holds a base signed by the team. (Facebook)

Gov. Wes Moore alongside Orioles CEO John Angelos and General Manager Mike Elias at the club’s Sarasota, FL., training camp last March. Moore holds a base signed by the team. (Facebook)

Orioles Want Control

Unfortunately, the Orioles are trying to take over the Warehouse, Camden Station, Oriole Park and much of the parking for their own vision.

Financially, this is a bad deal for the State of Maryland, as Mr. Plymyer and many others have noted.

Under the MOU, $600 million will be given to each team to spend as they see fit with no meaningful oversight by the MSA staff, MSA Board and the Board of Public Works. It also means that the teams will have the right to maintain the stadiums as they may determine, even if their judgement does not protect the long-term viability of the stadiums.

But an even greater concern, insofar as urban planners and other commenters have stated, we have no idea whether the Orioles’ vague live-work-play development vision will take these other projects and neighboring communities into consideration.

Or rather be a duplicate effort doomed to failure.

The Stadium Authority has been working with others since the planning first began. It should be allowed to retain the Camden Yards complex and continue to be a participant in preserving and improving this public treasure.
Thomas Kelso was chair of the Maryland Stadium Authority from 2015 to 2023 and headed Gov. Larry Hogan’s reelection campaign.

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