Schmoke backs plan to build 2 Little Italy parking garages Mayor's action blocks auto repair center

February 28, 1997|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

Little Italy rejoiced last night over news of likely construction of two huge parking garages -- really.

Appeasing often-feuding community groups while keeping an TC auto repair center from opening at Little Italy's gateway, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke announced yesterday his intention to proceed with approval of plans for garages at opposite ends of the historic enclave.

"It's hallelujah time for us here in Little Italy," said Gia Blatterman, a founding member of the Little Italy-Owner Residents Association. "This is a win-win for everybody, on both sides of Little Italy, and it makes sure everybody who lives here and does business is satisfied, and that people who visit here are satisfied."

Schmoke's decision -- subject to an advertising agency's expected move to the neighborhood and negotiations with a private development group over a city-owned property -- would mean victories for two community groups.

One, the Little Italy Community Organization, had appealed to the zoning board in a fight against approval of Hillen Tire and Auto Service's plans to open on the site of the vacant Pastore's Wholesale Grocers at Pratt and Albemarle streets.

The community organization and Michael Pastore Sr., owner of Pastore's, have fought for nine years to get a parking garage built on the Pastore's site and the adjoining city-owned lot at President and Pratt streets.

The other group, the Little Italy Owner-Residents Association, has fought for a 250-space garage on the other side of Little Italy, near Bank Street and Central Avenue. The group called the garage essential to provide parking for Little Italy restaurant patrons and employees of Eisner & Associates Inc., an advertising agency negotiating to buy the old Bagby Furniture Co. warehouse at Fleet and Exeter streets.

The prospect of ending the uncertainty over the entrance to Little Italy brought relief.

"This is the gateway to Little Italy we're talking about, and it belongs to the neighborhood, and nobody wanted a tire and auto shop here," said Naz Velleggia, co-owner of the 60-year-old Velleggia's Restaurant on Pratt Street.

Schmoke said he sent letters detailing his intentions to the Baltimore Development Corp., which some in Little Italy say has stonewalled Pastore and community leaders for months.

The mayor said he based his decision in part on the BDC's analysis of parking needs for the neighborhood and tourist attractions, economic impact, financial feasibility and other factors.

"The bottom line is, we're moving forward with both sites because we think with the development around them that they will both be viable," Schmoke said.

Pastore, who moved his grocery business to other locations nine years ago because of a space squeeze, has pushed for the parking garage since, turning down proposals that included a drugstore and a restaurant.

Hillen, which is being forced out of its location at Hillen and Front streets by the state to make way for a juvenile justice center, approached him about the site in the fall, Pastore said. He said he informed the BDC of his plans and repeatedly requested an answer on the garage before negotiating a lease with Hillen.

Little Italy Parking Group -- a venture that includes developer John Chapman, Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. and RTKL Associates architectural firm -- hopes to purchase the city-owned lot and build a garage with up to 450 parking places, Chapman said last night.

"We've been wrestling with this thing for a long, long time, and we've never heard the mayor say yes, so we're overjoyed that he's come out with this stance," Chapman said.

Construction of the garage could start by summer and be complete by year's end, Chapman said. He promised a garage befitting the historic neighborhood and tourist destination, with a Mediterranean-style facade featuring arches and columns.

Pub Date: 2/28/97

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