Bank dumps items from troubled mall near Inner Harbor


June 18, 1992|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Staff Writer

Allan Gallant has no idea where he's going to put an 18-hole indoor miniature golf course, but he knows a bargain when he sees one.

With a bid of $1,600, Mr. Gallant bought the course that once did business -- but not much of it -- in the Brokerage, a lavish retail-restaurant project that once was the city's shining hope for the redevelopment of the eastern Inner Harbor area.

"It's a steal," said the Baltimore entrepreneur.

The mini-golf course was one of the more unusual items to go on the auction block yesterday at the Brokerage, a restoration project that melded 22 historic buildings into a single indoor mall. It was part of a vast lode of surplus or unwanted items being dumped by Bank of America, the reluctant owner of the project, as part of what asset manager Charles C. G. Evans Jr. called a "yard sale."

Since its much-delayed, piecemeal opening in the mid-1980s, the Brokerage never attracted the traffic its developers expected. While some of its bar and nightclub tenants have done strong entertainment business on weekend nights, the retail space in the mall's interior is almost deserted.

Several of the tenants that tried and failed at the troubled project left behind a wealth of fixtures and furnishings and these joined the mall owner's stockpile of light bulbs, benches and ceiling tiles at yesterday's auction.

R. Andrews Stafford of Atlantic Auctions Inc. started the proceedings yesterday at 10 a.m. under the gaze of a circa-1985 portrait of William Donald Schaefer, who threw the political and financial weight of his mayoral administration behind the project in the early 1980s.

The bar from the Grog and Tankard restaurant fetched $25. A bid of $70 bought a table with four chairs and place settings from the Louisiana Cafe. Cast iron gates from the Coffee Merchant sold for $130. Everything at the Market Place Deli was on sale -- including the kitchen sink. That went for $5.

Some of the buyers were hard-eyed professional dealers bidding on such unglamorous items as "4 boxes open ellipsoidal reflector fixtures" ($40). But there were also enthusiasts such as the man who would identify himself only as "Bob Who Shows Up at Occasional Auctions and Buys Unusual Items," who lived up to his self-description by entering the winning bid of $300 for a massive ornamental fountain that once graced the dining room of the Louisiana Cafe.

For some of the onlookers, the auction was a depressing sight.

Vivian Johnson, whose Just for Fun Brokerage Bazaar is one of the few retail shops left in the mall, recalled watching business after business die around her.

"It's a lovely building," she said, adding that she'd like to hang on until a subway stop opens across the street in a couple of years. "This could be turned into a gold mine."

But for now, she said, her sales are "extremely slow."

But Buzz Berg, a demolition expert who said he did some of the work that cleared the way for the project, was dry-eyed and unsentimental.

"I feel bad that it didn't do anything because it's part of Baltimore," he said. "But if it's got to come down I'm ready, willing and able."

Mr. Evans doubts the Brokerage's fate will come to that. "He's just drumming up business," he laughed when told of Mr. Berg's offer. But the asset manager said Bank of America is actively seeking a buyer for the property. A real estate subsidiary of the bank acquired the Brokerage last year after foreclosing on Sovereign Realty of Philadelphia.

"We're working with some prospective buyers," said Mr. Evans. "We see some other uses for it, but I'm not able to say what uses the buyers that are looking at it are thinking of doing."

Mr. Evans said he was delighted by the strong turnout for the auction. He said it cleared out a lot of items that added no value to the property, while bringing in thousands of dollars that could defray a small part of the "substantial money" the bank has lost on the Brokerage.

He added that he was quite satisfied with the $1,600 the bank received for the mini-golf course, though he couldn't imagine what Mr. Gallant would do with it.

"I hope he has a big club basement," Mr. Evans said.

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