City proposes condemning 112 sites $350 million project called the largest since Inner Harbor

Big-business bias seen

2,600 apartments goal of redevelopment on 2 downtown tracts

November 25, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Baltimore officials announced plans yesterday to condemn 112 downtown properties as part of a $350 million renovation billed as the largest city redevelopment effort since the Inner Harbor.

The Baltimore Development Corp., a nonprofit business recruiting arm of the city, met for about 90 minutes yesterday at the former Greyhound Bus terminal at 601 N. Howard St. with about 100 downtown property and business owners targeted in the plan. They were told the City Council will introduce legislation Dec. 7 to begin purchasing the properties, many of which are being appraised, corporation President M. J. "Jay" Brodie said.

Property owners and businesses leasing stores in the area indicated that they do not intend to go quietly.

Brodie told affected business and property owners the condemnation is an effort to coordinate downtown redevelopment with $700 million in building under way at the University of Maryland, Baltimore and plans to revitalize Charles Center.

Much of the property would be sold to developers with hopes of creating 2,600 downtown apartments and hundreds of shops that city officials expect to increase pedestrian traffic and resurrect a long dormant urban core.

Target properties are in two tracts, one bounded by Eutaw, Baltimore, Howard and Fayette streets, with a second by Clay, Liberty, Fayette and Howard streets.

"There is as big an opportunity here as there was in the 1950s when planners saw the Inner Harbor and Charles Center," Brodie said.

Several business owners criticized the move as a plan to enhance the properties of downtown business powers that include the Weinberg Foundation, Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos and the University of Maryland.

Much of the property that would be taken by the city surrounds the UMAB campus or Weinberg holdings.

"It's not an investment for the citizens of Baltimore," said Nathan "Van" Keys of First Class Surety Bail Bonds at 322 W. Baltimore St. "It's an investment for big business."

The family of Ron Maher Jr. has owned 101 and 103 N. Howard St. for 40 years and rebuilt it after it burned to the ground two decades ago. The property is the site of EZ Pawn.

"We're losing our investment," Maher said.

The Weinberg Foundation has $1.2 billion in holdings and provides funding to social services projects, but also has been blamed for downtown's slide. The foundation is expected to be a major developer of the land.

"This town closes at 6 p.m.," said Joel Weingarten, a foundation official. "We hope that when this plan goes through, you have a lively downtown."

Under the plan, the city would send two independent property appraisers to each site and is required by law to offer property owners the higher of the two bids. Appraisals would be made on several approaches, including income, comparable sales and replacement value. Property owners could appeal the city offer in court, providing their own appraisals.

One targeted block in the plan is the first block of N. Eutaw St., home of the Hippodrome Theater.

The University of Maryland, which owns the theater, hopes the state would help renovate it as a downtown performing arts center.

This year, the state granted $1.7 million for a feasibility study of the plan, estimated to cost more than $35 million.

"You just can't renovate the Hippodrome," Brodie said. "You have to do something about some of the [surrounding] properties that are not in good shape."

The condemnation would be part of a larger plan to spruce up an 18-block area of downtown, 25 percent of which is vacant.

Besides the condemnations, downtown property owners would face new building and architectural codes that would require them to enhance many properties.

Once the condemnation legislation is introduced, the council would send the matter to the city Planning Commission before holding another council hearing on the matter.

Purchase of the properties could come as early as spring, Brodie said.

He said all current business owners would be able to invest in the new developments, through purchasing or leasing.

Mark Sendowski, who leases three downtown properties affected by the proposal, said moving his Inner City Records business would be difficult.

But Sendowski said he thinks downtown eventually would be better-served.

"It's not easy for me, because I'm going to have to move three floors," Sendowski said. "But if they treat us fair, I don't see a problem. Everybody just wants to be treated fair."

Pub Date: 11/25/98

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