Citing a lack of attention to the city's traditionally defined and aging central business district, a group of commercial property owners, led by attorney Peter G. Angelos, has formed a coalition to protect and revitalize Charles Center and the surrounding area.
The formation of the Central Business District Coalition of Baltimore Inc. comes 15 months before the expiration of the city's 4-decade-old urban renewal plan for Charles Center, a program that many analysts contend sparked Baltimore's original renaissance and set controls for construction and growth.
"The idea is to get the area back to where we were 30 years ago," said Angelos, who owns the 22-story One Charles Center skyscraper and the Hamburger's Building, and is in the process of buying the Masonic Building -- all in and around Charles Center.
As part of its effort, the coalition intends to ask the city to extend the tenets of the 33-acre urban renewal plan for at least five years.
Created to do more than simply maintain existing controls, though, the group also hopes to lobby the city to address parking problems, the lack of viable retail along Charles Street, a disconnected mass transit system, limited entertainment and other problems in the area bounded by Saratoga Street, Guilford Avenue, Liberty Street and Baltimore Street.
It also will deal with vacant buildings like the Southern Hotel, the First Union Building, Hamburger's and possibly the Morris Mechanic Theatre, and work to plan for future commercial development.
The group is in the midst of raising a $50,000 budget for marketing and to cover the group's expenses.
The coalition's goals aren't entirely altruistic, however. Both Angelos and David W. Kornblatt, a coalition co-founder and owner of the 28-story St. Paul Plaza office tower, say they also hope to increase property values, and the value of their own investments in the process.
"There's been so much attention to the Inner Harbor in recent years that we believe now is the time to balance it by focusing on the traditional central business district," Kornblatt said.
But in forming the coalition, the efforts of Angelos and Kornblatt are likely to smack into other, similar economic development groups such as the Charles Street Association, the Greater Baltimore Committee and the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc. that are also working to preserve the Charles Street corridor.
The property owners counter, however, that their group will differ in that it will be focused on a smaller area -- about 30 blocks.
"Downtown needs as much help as it can get, and here's a group of property owners that wants to get more involved," said Laurie B. Schwartz, president of the Downtown Partnership. "I think it can only help."
But not everyone is particularly thrilled with the idea of another economic development group that could merely repeat the efforts of existing groups.
"The Charles Street corridor is a tough nut to crack," said Michele L. Whelley, chief operating officer of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development agency. "There are a lot of issues, like traffic flow, parking and retail, and they're all interrelated. And there's a chance that if there are five different voices from five different places but all saying and doing the same thing, it can become redundant. What they need is a unified voice."
Whelley added that the BDC has begun to "pro-actively" focus on areas such as Charles Center.
Both Angelos and Kornblatt, while stopping short of saying the city ignored Charles Center in favor of the Inner Harbor, contend that more attention must be paid or a deterioration -- manifested by vacant buildings and empty storefronts -- will continue.
"I don't blame the city, I blame everyone, and everyone has to work together to bring it back," Angelos said.
"It's going to be an uphill battle in some respects," Kornblatt said. "We've got to hold on to what's there and build on it."
Pub Date: 11/13/97