More parking proposed for Little Italy 5-story garage to be on lot city partly owns at President and Pratt

Building to have Italian motif

City expects to build another garage in tourist area in Sept.


March 20, 1998|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

Within weeks, there may be good news for residents and visitors who have cursed the shortage of convenient parking in Little Italy.

Developer John Chapman, of Little Italy Parking Associates, hopes to seek city approval within a few weeks for a privately financed, five-level parking garage at President and Pratt streets. The $6 million garage will sit on a lot that is two-thirds owned by the city.

The facility would be in addition to a city-owned garage at Bank Street and Central Avenue, which is scheduled to be completed in September. Known as the Montebello, the garage will serve the nearby Bagby Furniture Co. building, which is being renovated into an office building.

"I'm very optimistic," Chapman said of his proposal. "I particularly like what we've been working on."

But his project doesn't have the best track record -- it's been a work-in-progress for 10 years.

Chapman declined to provide details of the proposal because he is still working out financing. Baltimore businessman John Paterakis Sr. has voiced interest in backing the garage along with others.

If finances can be worked out quickly, the structure, with a first level of retail shops, could be in operation within a year.

The Chapman project and the Montebello garage will be on the perimeter of Little Italy where an estimated 1 million to 1.3 million people visit each year.

"It's unfortunate that it's taken this long," said Michael Pastore Sr., a long-time resident and local businessman, who has worked to get the Chapman project built for the past decade. "We've had the residents and the restaurants begging for parking for years."

Pastore owns a third of the lot for the Chapman garage.

Next month, the city will advertise for construction bids on the Montebello garage, a parking deck that will accommodate 271 cars on the surface level and one level above. That garage will serve the Bagby building by day, and Little Italy and other nearby attractions by night.

The Bagby building's daytime tenants will include employees at Eisner & Associates Inc. and Caliber Learning Network Inc., an adult-education affiliate of Sylvan Learning Systems.

Chapman says his project will try to blend into the neighborhood.

For instance, the steeple of St. Leo's Roman Catholic Church has long been the first glimpse of Little Italy for visitors traveling east on Pratt Street. It was a view few locals wanted to give up, even for parking needed to alleviate the traffic congestion of the popular dinner and tourist destination.

As designed now, visitors and residents will be able to retain that view, and enjoy a festive gateway to Little Italy, complete with an Italian-style brick tower on its facade.

The Chapman project, expected to cost about $6 million, will have 23,000-square-feet of retail space on the first floor and 425 parking spaces on four additional levels.

"We want to make the tower high enough that it says, 'This is Little Italy,' and makes people in Little Italy proud that they're still there," said Lee Driskill of Hord Coplan & Macht Inc., the Baltimore architectural firm designing the project. "We went to great lengths to evoke the feel of an Italian community."

This is the sixth proposal to build a garage at President and Pratt streets. Just what went wrong in the past depends on who you ask.

But ultimately the financing never was worked out to the satisfaction of all the parties, and revenue bonds that were discussed at one point were not guaranteed in a way that suited everyone.

"We had an agreement on two parking garages in [Little Italy], and the proponents of the planned garage at Pratt and President streets changed the deal after our agreement," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said through his spokesman Clinton R. Coleman.

"We are nonetheless moving forward with our proposal for the other garage. We have almost completed the negotiations relating to the garage at the Montebello site, and we are committed to that project in Little Italy."

M. J. "Jay" Brodie, president of Baltimore Development Corporation, the city's chief economic agency, said he is anxious to see the the Chapman proposal.

"We have been pushing this with regularity, because we'd like to see it happen," he said. "But we don't want to see it happen with additional cost to the city that was unexpected . We share their disappointment that it hasn't happened."

The site is two-thirds city owned, a lot currently used for surface parking, with the remaining third owned by the Pastore family where Pastore's Wholesale Grocers once operated before moving to a larger site.

Pastore turned down a several offers to buy or lease his land over the years. At one point he considered leasing the lot to Hillen Tire & Auto Service, which caused an outcry in the community.

The Chapman project, with its approximately 70-foot tall tower reminiscent of those found in piazzas, or public squares, across Italy, also could serve visitors to the Power Plant, Columbus Center, a proposed African-American museum and the National Aquarium.

To some, Little Italy seems to have been overlooked in favor of new businesses coming to town.

"We're not asking for taxes to be abated," said Frank Velleggia, a resident, restaurateur and president of the Little Italy Restaurant Association. "We're asking for a situation that will abate some of the problems we have."

Customers expect more convenience than they did 20 years ago, Velleggia said. Whereas they might once have parked and walked seven or eight blocks to get to a restaurant, they are no longer as willing to do that -- especially since there is ample and convenient parking in large, new restaurants in surrounding counties.

Velleggia estimated that the Little Italy restaurants -- now more than 20 strong -- bring in about $150,000 a month in sales taxes and do more than $20 million in business a year.

He predicted more parking could increase business by 10 percent. Without the additional parking, business could actually erode, he said.

Pub Date: 3/20/98

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