$7.7 million OK'd for Little Italy parking garage But community leader criticizes project

July 09, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore Board of Estimates yesterday approved spending $7.7 million to build a parking garage in Little Italy that will provide night parking for area restaurants.

But the city's plan to add a 271-space garage on two properties at Central Avenue and Bank Street is being questioned by the president of the Little Italy Community Organization, who says the city is paying too much for the project.

Traffic congestion has become a staple in the five-by-four block neighborhood famous for its restaurants. City economic development leaders said this year that Baltimore will need 3,600 spaces over the next decade in its downtown core, including Little Italy, due to hotels planned for the region.

The money approved yesterday for the garage -- which will be built partially on the former Montebello Brands Inc. distillery property at 400 S. Central Ave. -- will also serve nearby Bagby Furniture Co., which is being renovated into an office building.

By day, parking tenants will include employees at Eisner & Associates Inc. and Caliber Learning Network Inc., an adult-education affiliate of Sylvan Learning Systems.

But Roberto Marsili, president of the Little Italy organization, said he fears that the property won't do much to relieve neighborhood congestion. In a letter to board members yesterday, Marsili said as many as 500 parking spaces are needed in the area.

"We say that it is wrong to spend taxpayers' money on a building that will only serve narrow interests and not serve the broader public interest," Marsili wrote in a letter he handed to the five board members. "To spend millions of dollars for a parking garage that will only provide two levels of parking is unacceptable."

The second property involved is 1205 Bank St., owned by Frank Scarfield.

Construction experts estimate the costs of building parking garages as at $16,000 to $24,000 per space. Using the guideline, the Montebello garage cost would range from $4.3 million to $6.5 million. But a spokesman for the National Constructors Association in Washington said yesterday that pinpointing such costs is difficult.

Among the factors the city must include is buying and demolishing the Montebello building, said city Public Works Director George G. Balog. All of the costs in building the garage have been or will be competitively bid under city contracting rules, Balog said.

The city would like to have the garage built by the end of the year. Phipps Construction Contractors Inc. has won the bid to knock down the building, Balog said.

Pub Date: 7/09/98

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