Broke tenants brake Brokerage's rise Despite setbacks, manager sees help in nearby development.

May 08, 1991|By Kevin Thomas | Kevin Thomas,Evening Sun Staff

Things have gone from bad to worse for Baltimore' Brokerage.

Last week, the office, retail and entertainment complex near the Inner Harbor lost one of its largest tenants. The Maryland Department of Licensing and Regulation moved the state's banking and credit commissions from the building. Together they had occupied 12,000 square feet, about 8.3 percent of the building's office space.

The Brokerage currently has a vacancy rate of about 35 percent for both its retail and office areas, says Charles Evans, asset manager for B.A. Properties.

The company acquired the Brokerage last January after it submitted the only bid at an auction. B.A. Properties is a subsidiary of Bank of America of San Francisco, which held the note on the Brokerage. Owners of the project filed for bankruptcy in March 1990.

The complex, which is bounded by Market Place and Water, Frederick and Baltimore streets, has experienced a number of setbacks since opening in 1983.

In recent months, several of the restaurants that called the Brokerage home have filed for bankruptcy and some have gone out of business.

Dominique's, which filed for reorganization in August 1990, closed twice within two months last year. The first time was in October, after which the restaurant reopened with a menu that reduced its prices and cut back on avant-garde fare such as alligator steaks and rattlesnake meat. The restaurant closed again in December.

Grog & Tankard, which specialized in imported beers, closed last month after filing for reorganization. And Cara's Cafe, which served coffee, sweets and light fare, also closed after filing last September.

Louisiana Cafe, a Creole and Cajun restaurant, filed for bankruptcy protection last month but remains open.

Despite the problems, B.A. Properties hopes to sell the Brokerage.

Evans says the building still has "great promise," adding that two future projects in the area should improve the Brokerage's viability.

One project is a new Metro Station slated to open in 1993 near the Brokerage. The station is part of the expansion of the city's subway system from downtown to Johns Hopkins Hospital. That project is currently under construction.

Also, Inner Harbor East should eventually benefit the Brokerage, Evans says. The mammoth residential, office and retail project is proposed in an area south of Little Italy. Completion is envisioned in about 10 years.

Evans says that, while those projects are years away, the Brokerage still draws more than 425,000 patrons a year to its restaurants and stores.

"There are active clients and customers of operations that are here," Evans says. "That tells you that there's a nucleus of entertainment, food and beverage that's successful here."

Evans will not discuss the asking price for the complex. It was purchased at auction for $8 million.

He says that, while the state was a major tenant at the Brokerage, the departure has not hurt.

"Considering the backup [of new tenants] we're working with, it's not a major blow at all," he says. "It's part of what one typically finds in turnover."

Jackie Lampell, a spokeswoman for the state licensing and regulation department, says the banking and credit commissions were moved from the Brokerage to the department's headquarters on St. Paul Street as a cost-saving measure.

"It has nothing to do with any dissatisfaction with the Brokerage," Lampell says.

Tourists and lunch-time shoppers do appear to be in short supply at the Brokerage these days.

Some establishments, however, have done well. Bennigan's and Baltimore's Original Sports Bar have become popular watering holes. Also, Fat Tuesday, a Cajun restaurant; Slapstix, a comedy club; and Lt'l Dittys, a piano sing-along bar, appear to have regular followings.

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