Groups apply for federal grant to develop American Can site

August 30, 1991|By Edward Gunts

Just north of the luxury town houses, condominiums and boat slips that hug the rejuvenated "Gold Coast" of Canton, the vacant and boarded up American Can Co. complex on Boston Street stands as an unwanted symbol of the area's industrial past.

Developers came and went during the 1980s with plans for high-rise condo towers, multiplex cinemas and maritime-oriented shops and restaurants, but still the derelict can factory hangs on, a large and ugly vestige of Canton's history as Baltimore's Cannery Row.

Concerned that the abandoned factory has been a blight on the community for too long, two local non-profit groups have applied for a $500,000 federal grant to help fund the first phase of a new shopping center they would like to see built on the site.

Southeast Development Inc., the development arm of Southeast Community Organization, and the Waterfront Coalition, a citizens group that monitors development along the East Baltimore waterfront, are seeking federal funds to help build an $8 million, 50,000-square-foot supermarket on part of the 9.3-acre site bounded by Boston and Hudson streets and Lakewood Avenue.

The source of funds would be a Department of Health and Human Services program that grants money to non-profit community groups for a variety of community projects aimed at job creation and eradicating poverty. Funding decisions will be made early next month.

Robert Giloth, executive vice president of Southeast Development, said the supermarket would create 110 permanent jobs and would be the first phase of a 350,000-square-foot, mixed-use development that also would include 200 housing units for the elderly.

The project would take the place of a $52 million retail center planned in the mid-1980s by the Florida-based Swerdlow Cos., which later abandoned the project. The land was owned for many years by the American Can, which recently merged with the National Can Co. to create the American National Can Co.

For more than a year, Chicago-based American National Can and the Swerdlow Cos. have been involved in a legal dispute, with American National Can trying to regain clear title to the property Swerdlow never developed. A spokeswoman for American National Can said yesterday that her company is still attempting to obtain title to the property and would then attempt to sell it on the open market. Until the dispute is resolved, she said, the company is unable to take action.

Mr. Giloth acknowledged that his group does not control the site, but he said that was not a condition to apply for the grant. If the group receives the grant, he said, it would try to buy a portion of the American Can site to build the supermarket or join forces with American National Can to carry out the project.

Waterfront Coalition members strongly opposed the development plan put forth by developer Michael Swerdlow, in part because it would have involved the demolition of four American Can buildings they wanted to save and in part because they were concerned Mr. Swerdlow wanted to build too much on the site.

The coalition says that it is trying to "jump-start" the planning process because the group still believes the area needs a good supermarket and other stores and that the site can be redeveloped in a way that preserves the four historic buildings. Several supermarket chains have submitted letters of interest in building on the site, Mr. Giloth said.

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