Edwin F. Hale Sr., the Baltimore developer and former CEO of First Mariner Bancorp, filed a $5 million lawsuit Monday against the operators of 1st Mariner Arena, alleging they are improperly using billboards that belong to him.
Filed in Baltimore County Circuit Court, Hale's suit names as defendants arena operator SMG Holdings of West Conshohocken, Pa., and the advertising firm that replaced him at the arena, Legends Sales and Marketing of Wilmington, Del.
"The billboards are the sole property of Arena Ventures," Hale's company, the suit states.
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1st Mariner Arena, 201 West Baltimore Street, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA
Hale's attorney, Ramsay M. Whitworth, said the suit seeks damages from Legends and SMG, which has run the city-owned arena since 1999.
"Arena Ventures is entitled to be compensated for use of its personal property," Whitworth said. "The purpose of it is to protect Ed's rights. ... They are actively attaining revenue from his personal property."
Whitworth said the suit primarily pertains to large billboards posted on the arena's exterior, which were the subject of a zoning fight, but also to some of the advertisements inside the venue. About 10 years ago, Hale funded a legal defense of the billboards against a challenge from nearby businesses, including lawyer Peter G. Angelos' firm. Hale was allowed to erect the billboards in 2003 after a city circuit judge dismissed a lawsuit that challenged the advertisements over alleged violations of the zoning code.
"Without Mr. Hale, there would not have been a funding of a lawsuit to continue to have the billboards out there," Whitworth said.
Frank Remesch, general manager of SMG, declined to comment on the suit.
Hale's suit states that in 2002, when his company Arena Ventures was hired by SMG as an advertising subcontractor, the arena's video screens, scoreboard, billboards and other advertising spaces were "dated and in poor condition." The suit says Hale's "vision" resulted in the creation of the billboards that brought a "Times Square" atmosphere to the arena.
"All the while," the suit states, "the city was adamant that it would not pay for the placement of the billboards, video screens, scoreboard, or advertising areas and that if Mr. Hales wanted such personal property placed at the arena he would have to fund it."
In an interview last year, Hale said he paid up to $3 million for video screens inside the arena and billboard structures around its facade. City officials have told him they are city property, he said, vowing to fight.
"I conceived the idea" for the billboards, Hale said Monday. "I implemented it. It was to get more revenue for my soccer team."
Hale owns the Baltimore Blast, the indoor team that plays in the arena.
When he told city officials that he considered the billboards his property, he said he was rebuffed by the city's finance director, Harry E. Black.
"He told me, 'We'll see you in court,'" Hale recalled.
In an email, Black denied making that comment.
"Not sure where Mr. Hale got this from," Black said. "Having said this, it is our hope that this issue can be amicably resolved."
In late 2012, according to the suit, SMG informed Hale that that he would no longer have any right to sell advertising at the arena. Instead, SMG was hiring Legends to sell advertising, the suit states.
As a result, Hale's company has suffered "loss of advertising revenue" and its reputation has suffered, according to the suit.
The suit is Hale's latest clash with city officials.
Last month, citing a soured relationship with city government, Hale announced that he was moving his businesses to Baltimore County.
Hale's businesses — the Baltimore Blast Corp. and Hale Properties LLC, which employ about 40 people — will have their headquarters in Edgemere, he said. The Blast will continue to play games at 1st Mariner Arena but will no longer practice at the Clarence H. Du Burns Arena in Canton, which Hale used to manage.
SMG was recently named as the winning bidder for a new five-year contract to continue to run 1st Mariner Arena.