Everyone seems to have plans for Camden Yards, the downtown Baltimore warehouse district that the state has decided should be the home of professional sports in Maryland.

Since April, when the Maryland General Assembly approved plans for a $200 million-plus twin stadium project near the Inner Harbor, the list of people who want a piece of one of the largest public works projects in state history has stretched from Montgomery County to the Netherlands.

Dozens of possible players -- consultants, bond houses, lawyers, construction firms, developers, architects, engineers, demolition experts -- have already expressed an interest in the stadium project. At least 10 groups want to design, finance and build the stadiums, and some of them are seeking to buy a National Football League franchise.

And offstage, mostly out of the public view, a familiar cast of characters is assembling: men and businesses with long relationships with Gov. William Donald Schaefer when he was mayor of Baltimore and was determined to rebuild his city's dilapidated waterfront.

Now the stadium project has become Schaefer's greatest test: As mayor, he was widely lauded for cutting through bureaucratic red tape, moving quickly and putting together the kinds of private-public partnerships that made downtown Baltimore's redevelopment a success. With the stadiums, he will try to apply those techniques to a state government whose public works projects in the past have often become mired in scandal.

The task is made more challenging because the legislature exempted the stadium project from state procurement laws that set rules for competition among contractors. The absence of bidding regulations will likely save time, but it relaxes the conventional safeguards meant to ensure that contracts are awarded fairly and that the state receives the best price. Already, questions have arisen in business and political circles about who should be allowed to seek contracts. In some cases, businesses helping to formulate plans for the project hope to win contracts to carry out those plans.

"I think there will be a feeding frenzy if this thing goes through," said state Sen. Howard A. Denis (R-Montgomery), who opposes construction of the stadium complex and is leading a court fight to stop it.

Schaefer disagrees. Each step of the process will be "scrutinized, looked at, audited, reviewed," he said. "It will be as open as you can imagine."

Sorting through the multitude of proposals is the five-member Maryland Stadium Authority, which will have immense latitude in awarding contracts to design the stadiums, build them and even run the concession stands. Because it is not bound by state procurement laws, the gubernatorially appointed authority stands poised to do things the way Mayor Schaefer did in Baltimore: by avoiding traditional government regulations that can be cumbersome and time-consuming, and relying on a cadre of loyalists who were involved in the successful development of the Inner Harbor.

Stadium Authority Chairman Herbert J. Belgrad said he has heard "innuendos and suggestions that there have been commitments made" and that contracts will be awarded on the basis of "who you know rather than by following competitive procedures." Belgrad said he is concerned about even the perception of impropriety, but he added that fears of favoritism are unfounded.

"I want this open, nonpolitical, nonpreferential," said Belgrad, past chairman of the state Bar Association and the state Ethics Commission. He said he is developing the authority's own competitive bidding procedures, which will include many of the state's guidelines.

Until now, questions about the stadiums have focused on whether they are needed and whether the state should pay for them. Polls have shown the public generally opposed to the project, and the courts are set to decide, perhaps by midsummer, the validity of a petition drive calling for a statewide referendum.

Although most stadium activity is on hold until the referendum question is settled, unsolicited contract proposals are pouring into the authority's office. They are being analyzed by Charles Benton, a trusted Schaefer adviser who once headed Baltimore's unorthodox "shadow government," a term coined by the Baltimore news media in the early 1980s that is now part of the local lexicon.

While Schaefer was mayor, Benton created the so-called city "trustee system," a largely autonomous arm of government that acted as a bank, offering low-interest loans to private developers -- some of the same people who now want a piece of the stadium deal.

For instance, Henry J. Knott, a Baltimore developer heavily involved in the city's redevelopment, is interested in buying a football franchise. So is John Paterakis, a millionaire baker and one of the state's leading political fund-raisers. The men have entered into a franchise partnership with Montgomery County developer Nathan Landow, one of the top Democratic fund-raisers in the country.

Another city contractor involved in the stadium project is Willard Hackerman, whose construction company received millions of dollars in municipal contracts for downtown projects. He owns land at the stadium site and is widely expected by government officials and business people to seek a contract to build the project.

Schaefer said no special advantage will be given to those who are politically well-connected, and Belgrad said it is stadium opponents who are spreading stories that "the worst is going to happen . . . that it's a chance for 'in people' to be enriched."

Each man points out that contracts will have to be approved by the Board of Public Works, composed of Schaefer, state Treasurer Lucille Maurer and Comptroller Louis Goldstein.

The stadium legislation authorizes the state to issue $230 million in bonds to finance land acquisition and construction, but it requires that opportunities for private financing be explored before state money is used. A long-term lease with the Orioles must be signed before the baseball stadium can be built, and an NFL franchise must be secured before construction can begin on the football stadium.

The authority was exempted from state procurement laws to give it more leeway in negotiating with private interests that might want to finance the stadium, and to expedite the building process. State officials have said they must be ready to start building the football stadium by 1990 in order to have a chance at winning an NFL expansion franchise that may be awarded that year.

While Schaefer said he is determined that the process be open, he is not promising that all stadium contracts will follow the competitive bidding process required for other state projects.

"As far as I'm personally concerned, the procurement and anything else should be in accordance to the law. {But} it takes so long sometimes to get around these, that it's a long process. My purpose is to try to make the process move as fast as possible," he said.

Belgrad and Schaefer have said that their desire to put the project on a fast track will not necessarily mean an advantage for companies already familiar with the job.

But the need for speed has influenced Belgrad's first major decision: the appointment of an executive director to run the daily business of the authority. Belgrad scrapped his plans for a nationwide search and turned to former Schaefer aide Chris Delaporte, Baltimore's director of parks and recreation.

A number of companies have helped the Stadium Authority on site selection and cost estimates. Among the firms that have done such preliminary work and are now seeking long-term contracts is Peat Marwick & Mitchell, the consulting firm hired to make recommendations on how the stadiums should be designed and financed. Recently, Peat Marwick proposed that it be hired to evaluate bids on financing, design and construction.

Similarly, two Kansas City, Mo., architectural and design firms that have worked on the stadium complex proposals -- Howard, Needles, Tammen & Bergendoff, and HOK -- have said they are interested in securing contracts to design the stadium complex. HOK currently is advising the Stadium Authority.

While Belgrad said no companies will gain an "inside track" in exchange for early paid or unpaid work for the authority, there are instances of stadium consultants gaining information that could be advantageous in the future. Hackerman's company, for example, the Towson-based Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., has helped estimate construction costs and is a potential bidder for the construction contract.

Hackerman is half-owner of a 4.6-acre parcel at the Camden Yards baseball stadium site, including a four-block-long 19th century warehouse he purchased for $3.8 million in 1983. In 1985, Schaefer appointed Hackerman to a commission to recommend a site for a new stadium complex. Hackerman resigned from the group after the search had been narrowed to two properties: a site in Baltimore County, and Camden Yards.

Hackerman did not return repeated phone calls last week to comment on his role in the stadium project.

Whiting-Turner's involvement in the stadium project so far has drawn attention because contractors have complained in the past that the firm got more than its fair share of city contracts and loans under Schaefer as mayor.

One of several highly controversial city transactions with Whiting-Turner occurred in 1985, when Benton helped the company win a $9 million contract for the expansion of the Convention Center, a job Whiting-Turner helped plan.

Whiting-Turner, which built the National Aquarium and Harborplace, was initially picked without competitive bidding in 1984 to oversee construction of the $4 million Festival Hall on the Inner Harbor. After complaints from other builders, the city reopened the bidding on the contract.

Whiting-Turner has already received one emergency contract -- which did not have to conform with the state's competitive bidding law -- from the state since Schaefer took office this year: a $9 million contract to build a new headquarters for Kelly-Springfield Tire Co. in Cumberland; the job later increased in size and cost to $15.1 million. The Schaefer administration agreed to advance the money for construction in an effort to keep the the tire firm from leaving Maryland.

In addition to potential contractors, a host of others are hoping to profit from the stadium complex.

Among them are local and national bond underwriting firms, some of which have donated thousands of hours of work to the Stadium Authority in hopes of winning the right to issue up to $230 million in stadium bonds later on. Several prominent Baltimore law firms interested in becoming bond counsel for the Stadium Authority have also donated time.

Landowners at Camden Yards also stand to make money. The Stadium Authority's initial estimates are that it will cost $58 million to acquire the 85-acre Camden Yards site and $7 million to relocate businesses that will be displaced.

Some have taken an active role in promoting construction on the site. Hackerman, for example, lobbied legislators on the selection of the Camden Yards.

Raymond V. Haysbert, chief executive officer of Park Sausage, a business at Camden Yards, has joined the Greater Baltimore Committee and others in aiding the state's court effort to scuttle the referendum question.

Overshadowing the dozens of smaller players seeking stadium contracts are several groups of business people who are angling to forge a partnership with the state to take over all of the design, financing and construction of the stadiums -- as well as winning a football franchise.

Sources involved said Schaefer has played a role in bringing together a group of business people -- all of them major donors to his campaign -- to try to win the right to buy an NFL expansion team. Last week, Landow joined forces with Paterakis, Knott and a third businessman to try to buy a team.

Paterakis, who was a leading Democratic fund-raiser for Schaefer as well as former governors Marvin Mandel and Spiro Agnew, is close to the governor. Knott had deep ties with Schaefer's mayoral administration, receiving millions of dollars in city loans for private development. Last year, he became embroiled in controversy after revelations surfaced first in a related court case and later in the local news media that he had secretly received $5.7 million in loans from Benton's city loan agency for renovation of an apartment building.

Three other groups have publicly announced interest in acquiring a Baltimore football team, and some of their members have political connections with NFL owners that could help the city win a franchise. Belgrad said the state will "get behind" any group that shows it can line up the support of a majority of the league's 28 team owners. The team owners alone will decide where a franchise goes and who its owner will be.

"Friendships are wonderful," said Belgrad, but they will not count for anything "if they can't deliver the end result."

The central player reviewing the stack of proposals and arranging private financing for the stadium is Benton, whose role at the Stadium Authority came to light only recently. His involvement has raised eyebrows in Baltimore and Annapolis, in part because of his controversial actions in Baltimore financial affairs, but also because his role as an unpaid financial adviser to the authority suggests greater involvement by Schaefer in its affairs.

Benton said his work has been only to review the unsolicited proposals that have come in to the authority. "My job is to put together a private financing plan," said Benton, adding that he has not rated any of the proposals that have been received. Schaefer said that Benton "is very good at this" and has "been down this road before."

A part-time aide to the governor soon to become a paid consultant in the State House, Benton is widely respected for his financial expertise, and legislators such as state Sen. John A. Cade (R-Anne Arundel) find no fault with Benton's involvement in the stadium issue "as long as he doesn't just take over everything."

Cade said the importance of the stadium issue will keep the authority's actions under a "magnifying glass." "There ain't going to be any shadow government in the Stadium Authority," Cade said.