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Chesapeake Bayhawks Looking To Build Stadium, Athletic Complex

July 17, 2017
Mark Burdett says it's time to turn up the heat.

The president of the Chesapeake Bayhawks has been beating the drums for his Major League Lacrosse franchise's proposal to build a 10,000-seat stadium and 20-field lacrosse complex on the grounds of the former Crownsville Hospital Center in Anne Arundel County.

The Bayhawks, who have been an MLL member since the league's inception in 2001, currently play at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, and the new development project is a chance, Burdett said, for the county he grew up in and still lives in to keep its only professional sports team, while addressing a critical need for recreational fields.

"What better way to revitalize and/or regenerate a fallowed property than with youth fields and athletics?" Burdett said.

The Crownsville Hospital Center was shuttered in 2004 after nearly a century of caring for the mentally ill. The 1,200-acre facility, founded in 1910 as the Hospital for the Negro Insane, costs the state about $1.2 million a year to maintain.

Bayhawks owner Brendan Kelly -- another son of Anne Arundel County -- and Burdett want to use 90 acres of the Crownsville property to develop the stadium, 20 soccer-sized fields (with lights), and a three-story building that would contain locker rooms, an event facility and office space.

A stadium that size, which Burdett said would be constructed to look more like an amphitheater, could also be used for high school sports, NCAA and high school playoff games, high school graduations and professional soccer.

The total cost of the project, including infrastructure, would be in the neighborhood of $135 million -- $40 million for the stadium, $30 million for the fields and between $50 million and $65 million for "abatement and reconstituting the property," Burdett said.

"We have not met with anybody who is against this," he said. "There's a leader of the community association that represents 35 community associations in the Crownsville area that is completely in support of the project. They obviously don't want apartments or strip centers or anything like that on the property because of traffic and because they don't want the congestion and they don't want the view, for lack of a better term. But green grass and kids playing sports, I think everybody can get their arms around that, and Anne Arundel County is underserved in that capacity in a pretty significant way. 

"That's why we're a little frustrated with [Steven R. Schuh, the Anne Arundel] County Executive for not seeing the value of this and not jumping in with both feet and saying, ‘I'm all in. I'm not going to support this, I'm going to lead this.' 

"Now we're carrying the banner ourselves, and too many times we get classified as developers. We're not developers. We're not in this to build apartments or strip centers. We're in this to build an amphitheater and youth fields. That's the message. We're doing everything we can to get the right green lights in place to move forward." 

A spokesman for Schuh said in an email the County Executive "is very supportive of the concept of having a lacrosse facility and stadium in Anne Arundel County and is disappointed by recent comments made by Bayhawks officials suggesting otherwise."

However, the spokesperson, Owen P. McEvoy, said the county also needs to take into account the impact the facility would have on the residents of the Generals Highway Corridor in Crownsville. 

"A project like this must address the traffic management issues of the surrounding areas," McEvoy wrote, also noting the property is owned by the state and not the county.

But the lack of enthusiasm has Burdett and the Bayhawks scratching their collective heads. 

"We just think that as members of the Anne Arundel County community, this would be a huge miss for Anne Arundel County," said Burdett, who played lacrosse as a 1976 graduate of the Severn School in Severna Park and then at the University of Maryland. "For Anne Arundel County to lose the only professional sports team it has -- or will ever have -- is just ridiculous. 

"We're getting a little boisterous, maybe."

Burdett said the Bayhawks are looking to have the Maryland Stadium Authority float a bond to pay for the stadium, and that the team would pay the bond off over 40 years, "just like the Ravens are doing" for M&T Bank Stadium.

Terry Hasseltine, a vice president with the stadium authority, said his organization is in the preliminary phase of a study on the Crownsville site that was requested, and will be at least partially paid for, by the Bayhawks.

"We are engaging all of the parties to make sure that no stone is unturned as we analyze the site for a potential stadium and for mixed-use opportunities," Hasseltine said. 

Burdett, who was named president of the Bayhawks in January, was an executive with the Ravens for 12 years before leaving to become general manager of WUSA, Channel 9, in Washington, D.C. He said the team's dream timeline would see a groundbreaking for the stadium in 2018 and an opening in 2019.

The Bayhawks, he said, can sustain operating losses until then. But not much longer.

"The business of Major League Lacrosse, running a team, renting [Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium], paying a payroll, we're in the red," he said. "And as a business, we can't sustain losses for perpetuity. We just can't.

"So we have to decide now, are we in for Crownsville, are we going to Port Covington, or are we going to join D.C. United in Northern Virginia and be part of their new complex and academy at George Mason University? Because all of those options are on the table and green-lighted."

And while those options have their positives, Burdett said the Bayhawks have built their business in Anne Arundel County and want to stay and have a place they can call their own -- and control.

"When we go to a place like Prince George's County or Northern Virginia or Port Covington, we're giving up control," Burdett said. "Meaning we'd have partners. And those partners would have access and usage and shared resources. We're not afraid of giving up control because in some cases that's a compromise we have to have in order to run a business in the black, but if you don't have to give up control, you would be better off.

"If it's our stadium and our field complex, and we run it for the good of our organization and for the good of the community versus if we go to Port Covington, we'd have to work with Under Armour. Great partner, great concept, but we'd have to share. And that might be good and it might not be good. All of those details have to be worked out.

"They are a super brand, and to be associated with a super brand would only be a good thing. But it would be a damn shame if we had to play a game at 1 o'clock in the afternoon because there was an NFL combine going on in our stadium. That could happen." 

Issue 235: July 2017