Howard Street corridor plan set Task force proposing housing, shops, offices in Baltimore district

June 25, 1998|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

A long-awaited plan to rebuild downtown's west side and the blighted Howard Street shopping district recommends the areas be infused with new middle-class housing units, shops, offices and cultural and hospitality-related uses.

To be unveiled today by a partnership of city officials, private foundations and property owners, the West Side Task Force's study is aimed at improving the character of a large district that is underused and marked by vacant buildings and small retail operations.

The study calls for the reopening of Lexington Street to vehicles from Liberty Street to Eutaw Street -- a stretch that was made into an urban mall in the 1960s. A new use for the long-vacant Stewart's department store building at Howard and Lexington streets is also to be announced.

"The study is crucial," said M. J. "Jay" Brodie, president of Baltimore Development Corp.

Joel Weingarten, an official of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, the study's major underwriter, declined to release its specifics last night, saying its contents would be disclosed by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

"We're dreaming big. The idea of the study is to find out what works," Weingarten said.

The report is timed to dovetail with the aims of the University of Maryland and its medical system, the Downtown Partnership and Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, who owns property in Charles Center and wants to construct a large hotel near Oriole Park.

The plan is designed to complement a number of construction projects on the drawing boards -- including 150 apartments to be built atop a parking garage at Eutaw and Redwood streets; Angelos' planned Grand Hyatt Hotel near the ballpark; and restoration of the 1914 Hippodrome Theater on Eutaw Street.

The Weinberg Foundation, through entities such as 3900 Corp., Honolulu Limited and the estate of Harry and Jeanette Weinberg, own many scattered properties in the 200 and 300 blocks of Howard St. and the 200 blocks of W. Lexington and Fayette Sts.

Harry Weinberg, who died in 1990, bought much of his Howard Street-area holdings in the 1970s as department stores and specialty shops closed. The foundation he created is estimated to have assets valued in excess of $1.2 billion.

While many of the buildings the foundation controls are small retail structures, it also has several larger former department store holdings -- the former Stewart & Co. on the northeastern corner of Howard and Lexington streets, and the former Brager-Gutman Co. on the southwestern corner of Park Avenue and Lexington Street. It also owns a bus station that serves Greyhound lines in the 200 block of W. Fayette St.

In the spring, the city stepped up its renewal plan for the Howard Street corridor. In a large-scale effort, the city's redevelopment authority sought permission to condemn nearly 100 buildings along Howard Street and Park Avenue.

Greyhound officials have been studying moving the company's downtown bus terminal to an AMTRAK-owned parking lot on the southeastern corner of Charles and Lanvale streets north of the railroad station.

That proposal, however, met stiff opposition from two neighborhood groups.

"The impact on the north Mount Vernon and Charles North neighborhoods would be devastating," said Charles Smith of the 1800 block of St. Paul St.

The Rev. Dale Dusman, president of the Charles North Community Association, also criticized the plan.

"It's too valuable a piece of property to put it there," Dusman said, adding that his group would support a plan to put a bus station elsewhere in that geographic area.

He suggested converting a building owned by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City or a site at the North Avenue light rail stop.

Pub Date: 6/25/98

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