Baltimore businessman Gus Diakoulas' plan to turn the area around North Avenue and Howard Street into a full-fledged "design district" by taking control of a city-owned parcel in the 2100 block of North Howard Street has won the endorsement of the Charles North Community Association.
The Rev. Dale Dusman, pastor of St. Mark's Lutheran Church and president of the community group, said that an eight-member advisory group from the community unanimously recommended that the city sell a 52,000-square-foot parcel at the southeast corner of Howard and 21st streets to the owners of the Design Resource Center at 200 W. North Ave. Two other bidders also want the parcel.
The Howard Street parcel is the largest of five in the area for which city housing department officials sought development proposals this year. In all, they received nine bids and are expected to select developers by mid-September.
The Design Resource Center, headed by Mr. Diakoulas, is a 26,000-square-foot facility conceived as a one-stop shop that brings architects and interior designers together under one roof with the manufacturers who serve them and the products and goods they provide. At its heart is a design library that includes catalogs, brochures, swatches and samples that designers use to select materials for commercial and residential design projects.
Mr. Diakoulas and his partner, Frank Favazza, proposed to buy the Howard Street parcel for use as a 120-car parking lot and a day-care center. They said that they hope to expand the design center by renovating the buildings at the northeast and southeast corners of Howard Street and North Avenue but need the parking spaces to support the expanded operation.
The design center operators are competing for the Howard Street parcel with the Triple C Real Estate Development Corp., a group of Korean business operators who proposed building a discount retail operation and an international food store on the property, and with the owners of Baltimore Car and Truck Rental Inc., which is in the area and wants to use the parcel for truck rentals and repairs.
The Korean group, working with the development firm of Struever Bros. Eccles and Rouse, proposed to use other city parcels to provide a new headquarters for the Korean Social Services of Metropolitan Baltimore, offices for Korean businesses and a new location for the Korean School, where children of Korean descent can learn the Korean language and cultural traditions. The Korean group's proposed investment for redeveloping three of the five city parcels was $4.3 million, the largest single investment proposed for the area.
Mr. Dusman said that the advisory group picked Mr. Diakoulas' proposal over the others because members have been impressed with what he has done with the building at 200 W. North Ave. and support his plans for the surrounding area. The pastor said that other properties are available in the area where the competing bidders could carry out their projects, and he hopes they will do so. But he said that Mr. Diakoulas needs parking space near the current design center, and the city land is all that seems to be available at a reasonable price.
"We realize Gus has made a major commitment to the area, and we really wanted to support him on that," he said.
Mr. Diakoulas said yesterday that he was pleased to have the community's endorsement and hopes to have a decision from the city soon.
Mr. Dusman said the advisory committee also recommended that:
* A surplus city firehouse at 105 W. 21st St. be awarded to local artists Paul Daniel, Linda DePalma and Ellen Burchenal, who wanted to create studios for themselves.
* A row of eight town houses at 2018-2032 Maryland Ave. be awarded to Hastings Square Limited Partnership, a group headed by J. Thomas Dowling and Leslie Rock, who proposed to convert them to a $1.47 million, 26-unit apartment complex.
* A parcel at 2000 to 2016 Maryland Ave. be awarded to Charles Dankmeyer, owner of the Dankmeyer Orthotics and Prosthetics Center at 2010 Maryland Ave. He proposed spending $2.5 million to build a larger facility for his business.
The advisory group made no recommendation for the vacant Royalton building at the northwest corner of Maryland and North avenues, saying that the two bidders for that property both proposed to build more residential units than they believed the site could handle.
Bill Toohey of the housing department said that officials are evaluating the bids and will take the recommendations into consideration.