Developers look at Eastern High site

January 16, 1995|By Edward Gunts and Jay Hancock | Edward Gunts and Jay Hancock,Sun Staff Writers

Eastern High School on 33rd Street would be torn down and replaced with a strip shopping center if the Schmoke administration accepts an unsolicited proposal submitted last month by local developers Michael Klein and Steve Sibel.

A 50,000-square-foot Valu Food supermarket would be the anchor tenant for the shopping center, which may include a bank, pharmacy, restaurant and drugstore, according to Valu Food President Louis Denrich. He said he signed a preliminary agreement last month to operate the supermarket.

The proposal came as the Baltimore Development Corp. is preparing to seek bids for the vacant high school property, across the street from Memorial Stadium.

It drew criticism from one community representative, who said tearing down Eastern for a shopping center is not the best use of the site.

Sandra Sparks, executive director of the Greater Homewood Community Corp. and member of a citizen task force seeking uses for the property, said that at least six grocery stores operate within a short distance of the 33rd Street site and that a new one could hurt business at the others.

She warned that a new retail center on 33rd Street could be harmful to merchants and restaurateurs along Greenmount Avenue.

"I don't think there's any feeling that a shopping center would be appropriate, because it would detract from all the other existing shopping areas," she said.

"The preference of the community is to see if we can save the building," she said, referring to the school. "It's a landmark site, and it deserves a premier development."

The lead developer behind the 33rd Street proposal, Klein Enterprises, was founded in 1948 and has built 1.8 million square feet of retail space in the Baltimore area, including the Fort Avenue Shopping Center in South Baltimore. Mr. Klein declined to discuss the proposal or acknowledge his involvement in the plan. Mr. Sibel could not be reached.

Others familiar with the proposal said the shopping center would contain about 100,000 square feet of space, including "pad sites" for freestanding structures such as a fast-food outlet. Beck, Powell and Parsons would be the architect.

Michele Whelley, newly named executive vice president for the development corporation, confirmed that a proposal was submitted but declined to discuss it.

She said the city will advertise the availability for the Eastern High School property Jan. 22 and give prospective developers 30 days to respond. The shopping center proposal will be evaluated in the next several weeks, she said.

Built in 1939, Eastern High was for many years the girls-only neighbor to a then all-boys City College across Loch Raven Boulevard. Eastern was closed in 1986, its identity merged with Lake Clifton High School.

The fate of old Eastern has been a subject of strong interest to residents in surrounding communities because it is such a large and visible property.

Consultants hired by the city several years ago recommended that both the high school and Memorial Stadium be razed to make way for a mixed-use development that would bring more jobs and housing to the area.

They said the property could be developed as a corporate campus, an expansion site for the Johns Hopkins University, or the annex of a federal agency such as the National Institutes of Health.

With the city's subsequent decision to leave Memorial Stadium standing for home games of Baltimore's Canadian Football League team, community leaders have encouraged the city to explore ways to keep Eastern standing as well.

They say it is an ideal candidate for preservation because it is in rel-atively good condition and built in such a way that it could be recycled in phases, rather than all at once.

Last spring the city paid contractors $51,000 to board the school's windows to make it more presentable and help keep out intruders. The city has spent nearly $3 million in recent years to repave 33rd Street, build new sidewalks, plant trees and make other infrastructure improvements.

Ms. Whelley said the city, in seeking proposals, is not specifying whether it would prefer that developers save the school or replace it. But she added that developers should be prepared to pay for any demolition work they propose because the city has no money for that purpose. The estimated cost of demolishing the high school has ranged from $1.5 million to $6 million.

Robert Schuerholz, director of facilities management for the Johns Hopkins University, said campus officials are deciding whether to bid for Eastern High. "We're going to be analyzing that over the next month," he said.

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