Baltimore picks partner in housing

April 19, 1995|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writers Robert Guy Matthews and Michael James contributed to this article.

In a hastily convened conference call, Baltimore's public housing commissioners have selected a team headed by Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse to transform the dilapidated Lexington Terrace development.

Three of the five commissioners voted to choose Struever Bros. to work as the lead partner with the city in a proposed $68 million overhaul of Lexington Terrace, a cramped, worn high-rise project on the west side.

Board Chairman Reginald Thomas defended last week's conference-call vote, which was made public yesterday at the board's regular monthly meeting, as the only way to meet a tight deadline to apply for a $20 million federal grant.

But the opposing commissioners complained that they were given insufficient information on the proposals and pricing techniques of Struever Bros., which was not the low bidder, and two other developers.

"I made it clear to my fellow commission members that the process bothered me," said commissioner Constance Caplan. "Based on the information that we had, I didn't see how we could decide that one application was better than the other."

Ms. Caplan suggested that the grant application should include all three developers to allow more time to select the best candidate. However, staff members insisted that would weaken the application, she said.

The proposal, approved in the conference-call vote Thursday and submitted to the federal government two days ago, calls for tearing down the five towers at Lexington Terrace and building a community, consisting of rowhouses, a day care center and student apartments.

In a landmark partnership with the city, Struever Bros. plans to develop a mid-rise building with 99 apartments for the elderly and 303 traditional rowhouses, including 203 reserved as public housing, on the property. The remaining 100 homes would be sold to low- and middle-income families. To shore up the neighborhood, Struever Bros. also will work with the University of Maryland at Baltimore to develop 48student apartments and a four-story office center that would house businesses and job training programs.

"Our concept is to do something quite different, and I think quite exciting, in terms of transforming public housing as we know it," said C. William Struever, president of the company whose top officials have served on several of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's panels, including one evaluating the Baltimore Development Corp.

City housing chief Daniel P. Henson III is a former vice president and partner of Struever Bros. But he said he has no financial ties to the company anymore and was not involved in the decision. Mr. Henson, who agreed not to deal with any of his former partners for two years when he was named housing commissioner in March 1993, said, "I thought this might be sensitive, and I continued to keep myself out of it."

Mr. Struever stressed that the grant application is only the first step in working with residents, the university and private industry to rebuild Lexington Terrace. His company has a number of partners, including Mid-City Financial Corp. and Edgewood Management Co., known for building and managing low-income housing.

The city Housing Authority already has lined up about $10 million to rebuild Lexington Terrace and is seeking federal approval to spend another $18 million now earmarked to replace apartments lost with the closing of Fairfield Homes.

Baltimore is competing with other cities for a $20 million share of $129 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The grants were announced in mid-March, prompting housing authority staff to scramble over the past few weeks to put together an application.

Of 30 developers who had responded to a bid request this year, the authority selected four companies -- Struever Bros., A&R Development Corp., Telesis Inc. and Enterprise Social Investment Corp.

A selection panel recommended Struever Bros., even though A&R Development, which had teamed up with Enterprise, was the low bidder. The housing authority could not provide the prices yesterday.

Mr. Thomas convened a conference-call vote last Wednesday, but delayed it by a day after two board members, Ms. Caplan and Sharon Grinnell, requested more documents.

Voting for it were Mr. Thomas, Cleoda Walker and Lorraine Ledbetter, a tenant leader and Lexington Terrace resident who also served on the selection panel.

Mr. Thomas said he convened the meeting by telephone because he was under medical care and facing a federal deadline. He said the board may take votes by phone, instead of at public meetings, a position supported by Mr. Henson, who said it is fairly routine.

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