By CHRISTOPHER CAREY
ANNAPOLIS - The Maryland Board of Public Works Wednesday approved the forgiveness of almost $445,000 in debt, essentially bailing out the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards.
A representative for the museum, which owed 15 months of unpaid rent to the Maryland Stadium Authority, argued that if its rent was not lowered and its debt forgiven, there would be dire consequences. The Babe Ruth Museum operates the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards, as well as the nearby Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum.
"If this vote goes the wrong way, the Babe Ruth Museum will go out of business," said Michael Gibbons, the museum's executive director. He said that diminishing attendance at Baltimore Orioles baseball games was to blame for lower revenue.
The vote to bail out the museum was 2-1, with Comptroller Peter Franchot voting no. The other two board members in attendance were Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, filling in for Gov. Martin O'Malley.
"A private sector company wouldn't put up with this at all," Franchot said. "So why should a taxpayer-funded entity like the Stadium Authority put up with this situation?"
David Raith, the acting executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, argued that by forgiving the debt, the board would be acting in the best interest of the state.
"We're ... looking at making sure we protect the state's investment in that building," said Raith, pointing out that the state had contributed $1.1 million to the construction of the museum.
The Maryland Stadium Authority was originally commissioned to design and construct what is now Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Following that, it was given the power to oversee facilities other than sports stadiums, including the Camden Yards Sports Complex where the museum is located.
Raith said that with the amendment of the lease, the Stadium Authority could receive a percentage of the museum's net profits if it becomes more successful in the future.
"We're talking about the possibility of furloughs and layoffs," said Franchot, bringing up the ongoing state budget cuts. "I'm just concerned about us getting further into this, particularly with the lack of accountability as far as the forgiven debt."
Despite some reservations, Kopp said Maryland should save the museum.
"To end this project, to lose the money, to forego the potential revenue and to incur the ... cost to reconfigure the place for another use just strikes me as not the wiser solution," Kopp said.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.