Ambridge's uphill battle Real estate: Mayor won't relinquish control over property transactions in Baltimore.

June 21, 1996

AN UPHILL FIGHT is what new city Real Estate Division chief Anthony J. Ambridge faces in trying to get Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to change his way of doing business. Mr. Ambridge has become point man in the quest to have all city property transactions conducted through the real estate office. For years, leases, sales and maintenance agreements have been handled by various agencies, including the quasi-public Baltimore Development Corp., which often makes deals that include little public review.

To no avail, Mr. Ambridge complained loudly Wednesday that a deal to sell the former Eubie Blake Center at 409 N. Charles Street for only $100,000 had not come to his attention until shortly before the Board of Estimates meeting that day. He said he didn't know if the price was fair because the real estate office had not had time to assess it against the market. Mr. Ambridge criticized the sales arrangement giving purchaser C&S Contractors Inc. 20 years to pay off a $90,000 balance without interest.

His point is valid, even though this particular transaction does appear to be in the best interest of the city. Michele Whelley, chief operating officer of BDC, said that C&S was the first potential buyer to offer a "viable proposal" to renovate the Eubie Blake Center since a fire damaged the property three years ago. C&S plans to relocate its offices in the building, along with a clothing retailer, a law firm and an accounting firm. Other proposals would have asked the city to help pay for renovations.

C&S is to be commended for coming up with an idea that will improve an area important to tourism. However, it still should have been charged the same interest the city pays when it borrows money. And the real estate office should have been given an opportunity to assess the building's fair market value. But Mr. Schmoke controls three votes on the five-member Board of Estimates, so he got his way.

After the meeting, he said he would not make the real estate office the primary negotiator of property deals. The mayor said he would set up a procedure to inform Mr. Ambridge of transactions early enough so he can make brief recommendations for inclusion in the board's weekly agenda. That's not enough to reassure the public that sweetheart deals won't be hidden until it is too late to stop them.

Pub Date: 6/21/96

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