A bill that would allow the city to condemn several buildings in the 300 block of E. Baltimore St. has aroused the ire of preservationists, who say some of the structures are historic and should be preserved.
Demolition would clear the way for a proposed parking garage. The proposal is to come before the Planning Commission at a hearing today.
Construction of a parking garage was stipulated in the lease that Alex. Brown Inc. negotiated with the city and the owners of Commerce Place across the street, where the investment firm will consolidate its offices.
Preservationists said they would hate to see a block of historically significant buildings razed, especially when a vacant lot that could be used for a garage sits empty on an opposite corner. On that lot in the 200 block of E. Baltimore St. the Tower Building once stood.
"It just seems so ironic, given that the Tower building site, which is just across Guilford on Baltimore Street, which actually has a larger footprint, is right there as a surface-parking lot," said Bill Pencek, president of Baltimore Heritage Inc., a nonprofit historic preservation and advocacy group.
The bill was introduced in the City Council last week at the request of the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC).
The bill has been assigned to the council's Taxation and Finance Committee for public hearings. Also, before the council can take up the measure, the Planning Commission has to review and vote on it.
"[The bill] gives the city authority, if we deem it necessary, to go forward with the acquisition of property in that block," said BDC development director Leslie Howard.
Mr. Howard said the city is not anticipating any problems over the demolition of the buildings.
"We've been in contact with the Maryland Historic Trust, and we'll be in contact with other historic groups," he said. "No state or federal funds will be used in this development, and so it should not trigger a state historical review."
Last month, Alex. Brown completed the terms of a lease, after negotiations with the city and building owners, that would consolidate its offices on 12 floors of the 30-story Commerce Place tower, ending fears that the firm would pull out of the city.
Alex. Brown's headquarters now are in a 95-year-old building at Baltimore and Calvert streets, which is leased from the descendants of Alexander Brown, the firm's founder. Other offices are scattered among six other buildings downtown.
In May, when Alex. Brown made a tentative commitment to move to the building, A. B. "Buzzy" Krongard, the investment firm's chairman and chief executive, said parking and security were paramount issues in evaluating Commerce Place and that both issues were addressed "in a satisfactory manner" by the city.
In a May 22 letter from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to Mr. Krongard, the mayor said the city plans to build a 250-space parking garage for Alex. Brown near its new headquarters, although he ** did not specify a location.
Yesterday, BDC officials refused to address the question of whether they were seeking to acquire the Baltimore Street property and to construct the parking garage for Alex. Brown.
Most of the buildings specified in the legislation were built after .. the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 and are in the Business and Government Historic District designated by the National Register Historic Places.