City sells dozen buildings in Poppleton for $150,000 Baltimore trying to cut its losses

September 25, 1993|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,Staff Writer

Stung by $1.4 million in bad loans made to renovate 12 buildings in West Baltimore's Poppleton neighborhood, the city has moved to cut its losses by selling the properties for a mere $150,000.

The Board of Estimates recently approved the sale of the properties to the Frederick Avenue Development Corp., headed by Leonard F. Moyer.

About three years ago, the city took over the properties after developers defaulted on several city and state loans.

The developers had difficulty renting the properties -- a mix of storefronts and apartments -- in a poverty-stricken neighborhood the 1000 block of W. Baltimore St.

On two occasions last year, city officials negotiated with prospective buyers for the properties. The city tried to sell the properties for $275,000, but both deals fell through when buyers failed to get the necessary financing, according to city officials.

When Mr. Moyer recently stepped forward to purchase the properties, the city agreed to lower the price to $150,000 to expedite the sale, said David Elam, development director for the city's Department of Housing and Community Development. Mr. Elam said the city was eager to sell the properties to return them to the tax rolls.

The sale has angered Poppleton community leaders. They say the city should have made a stronger effort to sell the properties to buyers who live in the Poppleton area.

Mr. Moyer lives in Ellicott City, according to Motor Vehicle Administration records.

"This is urban renewal in reverse," Philip Hildebrandt, vice president of the Union Square Association, said, adding: "The city spends [millions of dollars] in public money and what we have is an absentee landlord and a whole lot of rental property."

Gary Letteron, vice president of the Hollins Market Association, criticized the city for failing to seek buyers among small business owners. He said the properties would have been an attractive buy for small merchants if the city had sold them individually -- at $12,500 apiece -- rather than as parcel for $150,000.

"At $12,500 for a renovated building, even the guy down the street could afford that," he said, adding: "It would give those people who don't have a stake in the world, a stake in the world."

City records describe Mr. Moyer as a local businessman who formerly ran a bail bond business, a security service, a record company and a development company. Efforts to reach him were unsuccessful.

Mr. Hildebrandt said Mr. Moyer met with community leaders once but gave them little idea what his plans are for the properties.

Mr. Elam said it would have been difficult to sell the properties individually because some of the walls in the buildings had been removed. As a result, some of the upstairs apartments straddled two buildings. He also said the city received no formal proposals from local merchants.

But one merchant, Benjamin Prestbury, said he made a verbal inquiry about purchasing the building he now rents.

Mr. Prestbury and his business partner, Janet Hall, own Bundles of Joy, a card and children's gift shop at 1023 W. Baltimore St.

"We had hoped to buy this building, but [the sale to someone else] has put a damper on our plans," Ms. Hall said.

One of the reasons they opened the business, said Mr. Prestbury -- a local actor -- was to bring plays and other cultural events to neighborhood children. Mr. Prestbury produced a play last year for a local elementary school.

"This is a growing neighborhood. This was part of the city's development plans. We want to do cultural things for the neighborhood for youngsters," he said.

Their store, decorated with colorful displays of balloons and gifts, is bright and neat and clean, in contrast to the drab, vacant storefronts and dirty sidewalks elsewhere on the block.

A note on the door of Al Washington's barber shop seems to underscore the block's failed renaissance. The note says: "I am having to relocate my business due to poor economic circumstances in this particular neighborhood."

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