- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Maryland Stadium Authority has over the past 13 months forgiven or negotiated nearly $3 million in back rent owed by groups occupying space at Camden Yards in Baltimore - including the stadium’s largest renter, the Orioles.

The most recent incident surfaced last week when the state’s Board of Public Works voted 2-1 to forgive $444,000 owed to Maryland by the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards, which houses memorabilia related to Maryland sports teams, race tracks and Olympians.

Authority officials voted more than a year ago to forgive the debt but needed the board’s final approval.

Comptroller Peter Franchot, who voted against forgiving the debt, criticized the museum and David Raith, the authority’s acting executive director, for waiting so long to do something about the outstanding debt.

“A private company would not put up with this at all,” he said.

The board also voted last week to reduce the rent for the nonprofit museum from $32,000 a month to roughly $10,000 a month and restructure the lease from 21 years to five years, with an option to renew the lease for three additional five-year periods. The state would also receive a percentage of the museum’s profits if it eventually made money.

In February 2007, an audit by the Maryland Office of Legislative Audits found the agency failed to collect $1.7 million in back rent from Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos.

The state forgave the debt about a month later, and Executive Director Alison L. Asti was ousted about seven months later.

The agency has been under Mr. Raith’s leadership as an acting executive director over the past year.

However, Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, last week approved Michael J. Frenz, a former top executive at Ginnie Mae, to fill the job as executive director. Mr. Franz signed a two-year contract, with the first year paying $250,000. He is scheduled to start work next month.

Last month, the Geppi’s Entertainment Museum - just above the Sports Legends Museum in the 16-year-old stadium - announced it owed $622,500 in back rent, according to the Maryland Daily Record. The entertainment museum, unlike the Sports Legends Museum, is a for profit venture owned by Stephen A. Geppi, chief executive officer of the Diamond Comic Distributors and a minority owner of the Orioles.

Mr. Geppi has since reached an agreement to pay back the debt by the end of the year. A call to the museum was not returned.

The stadium authority collects a percentage of the team’s profits after taxes and expenses are paid. The agency oversees the construction and maintenance of the major sports complexes within Maryland including M&T; Bank Stadium and the Comcast Center at the University of Maryland College Park.

Michael Gibbons, executive director of the Legends museum, acknowledge that the venue is in serious trouble and blamed in part the economy and the poor performance over the past year by the Orioles - who went 68 and 93 last year.

“It is possible that the end is in sight, and we’re concerned about what the future holds,” he said. “We are hoping the stock market rebounds and Orioles rebound.”

Mr. Gibbons also said the venue attracts about 60,000 to 75,000 visitors a year and would need closer to 150,000 to make a profit.

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