Baltimore to weigh buying The Brokerage

December 23, 1992|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Staff Writer

Baltimore officials are proposing to buy The Brokerage, a long-troubled office and retail complex, for $5 million and to move the Cloisters Children's Museum there from its city-owned site in Baltimore County.

The Board of Estimates today will consider the city's purchase of The Brokerage -- the perennially ailing development on Market Place near the Inner Harbor -- with money from the sale of bonds previously approved by voters for parking facilities. Integral to redevelopment of the 3-acre complex is the creation of a new Baltimore Children's Museum on the site, according to documents submitted to the board by the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's quasi-public development arm negotiating the deal.

The new museum, however, would require moving the Cloisters museum operation to downtown from its Falls Road site in Baltimore County as part of a yet-undisclosed arrangement with the Maryland Children's Museum Inc., a non-profit group, according to the documents.

A reporter's telephone queries about the scheme to officials of the Baltimore Development Corp., the Cloisters, Department of Housing and Community Development, Department of Finance and the Brokerage's property manager went unanswered yesterday.

It was unclear yesterday what would happen to the Cloisters property, which was donated to the city for a children's museum, but has certain covenants restricting uses at the site.

Moving the museum to the downtown site, however, would eliminate the costly proposition of making the site accessible to the handicapped, as a result of a new federal law, city officials said.

As an additional incentive, the nonprofit Abell Foundation has approved a $300,000 grant to the Baltimore Children's Museum, provided that the museum is located at The Brokerage, according to documents submitted to the board.

Since the early 1980s, the city has repeatedly bailed out the ailing Brokerage complex by guaranteeing loans and approving restructured financing deals beneficial to the developers. The site originally was developed with help from the city's now-defunct Trustees for the Loan and Guarantee Program, who operated a quasi-public development bank in the administration of then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer.

In the latest deal, the city would acquire outright the 9-year-old Brokerage complex -- a two-level mall of shops, bars and restaurants; a 276-car garage; office space atop the garage; and an office building annex at the southeastern edge of the central business district, generally bounded by Baltimore Street, Market Place, Water Street and Frederick Street.

The site would be purchased with $5 million in money from the sale of off-street parking general obligation bonds previously approved by voters for financing or purchasing parking facilities, according to board documents.

The principal and interest on the bonds, backed by the full faith and credit of the city, would be repaid with tax money.

The Brokerage is now owned by BA Properties Inc., the real estate disposal subsidiary of the Bank of America, which took control of the site for $8 million at auction in January 1991. The Bank of America had foreclosed on the previous owner, Sovereign Realty 1983-XVIII Limited Partnership, claiming it was owed $53 million.

BA Properties has tried unsuccessfully since then to sell The Brokerage, which was once the city's hope for tying the Inner Harbor to a revitalized southeast corner of the central business district.

"The depressed real estate market, the development history specific to The Brokerage . . . and other complexities unique to The Brokerage have made the sale to purchasers of portions of the project difficult," according to Baltimore Development Corp.'s explanation to the board.

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