Jim Ward owes it to city to revive Belvedere Square

This Just In . . .

October 23, 1998|By DAN RODRICKS

GRIPE OF the week: Six months after he got out of a $1.7 million debt to the city of Baltimore, developer Jim Ward is out there somewhere, taking his merry ol' time about finding new tenants for Belvedere Square. The neighborhood deserves better. The remaining businesses deserve better.

Ward's Belvedere was once a thriving shopping center on the north side of the city, a great gathering place. It gave a significant boost to Govans and the York Road corridor when it opened in the mid-1980s. But, one by one, tenants moved out of Belvedere Market, the upscale version of Lexington Market that anchored the shopping center. The market has been empty for two years. Since then, we've heard rumor after rumor about Ward's plans to bring in new stores and/or restaurants.

Nothing has happened. In fact, the situation has grown worse. (The Gap store closed a few months ago.)

We've been nice to this cat, too.

In April, the Board of Estimates agreed to forgive a $1.7 million government loan in return for Ward's promise to make hundreds of thousands of dollars in improvements to the shopping center and bring in new tenants to go with those that remained. (Pier One Imports is there, along with a Chili's restaurant, Egyptian Pizza, a Blockbuster video store, Techlab Photo, Greg's Bagels, Lynne Brick's fitness center, the Coffee Mill and a handful of other small shops.)

Joan Pratt, the city comptroller, voted against the deal because she felt forgiving the loan removed any city control over the property, while the debt reduction gave Ward the potential to profit from the improvements. Pratt might have been correct, though city economic development officials tell me Ward stands to lose financially unless he lives up to his agreement.

Jim Ward? He moved to Florida and left Belvedere in the hands of a management company. He's been hard for reporters to reach.

But Jimbo might be coming around again. He was seen having bagels at Greg's a while back. And both Jay Brodie and Andy Frank of the city's economic development office have spoken with him during the past two months. Some physical improvements have been made along Belvedere Avenue. The state has offered $500,000 in loans and loan guarantees to new tenants. The area is inhabited by middle- and upper-middle-class homeowners. The Senator Theatre is right across the street. Flocks of college kids move through the area regularly.

So, Jimbo, let's go. Use it or lose it. Fill it or sell it. Be a mensch, would you?

Another Julia sighting

Philip Merrill, historian and expert collector of African-American artifacts, had an interesting encounter Wednesday morning in City Cafe in Mount Vernon. An attractive woman raved about the cafe's excellent pumpkin bread and offered Merrill a sample. The generous beauty was Julia "Runaway Bride" Roberts, in Baltimore for the making of a movie about a woman who leaves 'em standing at the altar. She left Merrill, dumbfounded, standing in line. . . . The Gary Marshall-directed film, starring Roberts and Richard Gere, is slated for more than 60 location shots in Maryland. Scenes were shot this week in Glen Arm, Baltimore County, at Waugh United Methodist Church, Long Green Road. "I said no pictures! No cameras!" onlookers heard Gere yelling. (Lines from the script, apparently, and not admonitions to local paparazzi.) "Bride" is also scheduled for location shooting inside the grand barn at Boordy Vineyards.

Life imitates TV

In a story yesterday about William Donald Schaefer's campaign for state comptroller, a Washington Post reporter named Lyndsey Layton referred to one of Schaefer's favorite haunts in Fells Point as "the Waterfront Hotel, across the street from the Baltimore police headquarters." In your TV-influenced dreams, Lyndsey! What's across the street from the Waterfront is the old Rec Pier, which is the pretend PDHQ in "Homicide: Life on the Street." Got it? If the Rec Pier could talk, it would say: "I'm not a police headquarters, but I play one on TV."

Saloon in limbo

The Dead Eye Saloon, popular hangout of wharf rats, beer lovers, boat bums and blues singers, off Hanover Street in South Baltimore, quietly closed its doors recently, a year after the death of its irascible owner, Cap'n Dan Davis. His children, Lincoln and Kristen, tried to keep the place going but found the rent they had to pay to their father's longtime nemesis, the city of Baltimore, too heavy to bear.

The city is landlord to both the saloon and a marina in the Baltimore Yacht Basin, operated by Davis and his children. The rent on the place is about $160,000. "The terms of the lease were very restrictive," says Lincoln Davis, 29. "The city could cancel the agreement at any time, without cause." And the city was unwilling to renegotiate the lease, Davis says. That made getting new financing impossible.

So the Dead Eye is shut, for now. The bad taxidermy that adorned the saloon has been taken away.

"It represents the loss of one of Baltimore's authentic establishments, where 20th-century pirates and privateers could tell lies and drink beer in the company of their own kind," says loyal patron Paul Shepard. "We can only hope that its [next] skipper will preserve some of the bar's legacy as a watering hole for sailors and scoundrels, or suffer the wrath of the ghost of Cap'n Dan."

Drilling for dollars

The Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry on Greene Street has been on the receiving end of some nice donations lately, I see by its newsletter, the Articulator. The museum has a charming way of acknowledging donors: If you give less than $100, you're an "incisor." If you write a check for between $100 and $249, you're in the "cuspids" class. If you spit out between $250 and $499, you're a bicuspid. And if you cough up between $500 and $999, as Dr. M. Pitkin Johnson Jr. did, you're a "molar."

I assume that, if you give nothing, you're a "cavity."

Pub Date: 10/23/98

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