Amendments appease some foes of downtown development bill

Changes would preserve businesses, historic sites

April 07, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Supporters of a Baltimore City Council bill to renovate the west side of downtown have offered amendments that they hope will appease historic preservationists and help merchants who face losing their properties.

Under the new language, the city would spare the 400 block of W. Baltimore St., designate several structures for preservation and create a list of merchants who want to stay downtown.

"We are trying to listen and address concerns where we can deal with them," said M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's non-profit business recruiting agency.

Although welcoming the effort, merchants at a meeting yesterday called the offer "limp."

"It doesn't go far enough for us," Preservation Maryland Executive Director Tyler Gerhart said yesterday of the amendments. "But we appreciate the fact that the BDC has picked up on this thing and that they've put historic preservation and small business development in the plan."

The City Council will hold its second hearing on the renovation bill on Monday night. A third and final reading could occur within two weeks, when the council will likely approve the bill. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is expected to sign it into law by the end of the month, touching off the largest city renewal project since the Inner Harbor.

The bill proposes condemning 127 downtown properties bordered by Cathedral, Baltimore, Saratoga and Eutaw streets, eliminating an estimated 500 jobs. The city has offered business and property owners the higher of two appraisals on their properties.

In return, city economic leaders say the 18-block renewal proposal will attract street level shops and more than 2,000 apartments to revive downtown, create more than 3,000 new jobs and add more than $2 million annually to city property taxes.

Kelley Brohawn, a commercial real estate agent downtown, recently formed a coalition of merchants and preservationists called Citizens Against Rush Development. Brohawn, a 1995 mayoral candidate, called the amendments a weak city attempt to pacify opposition to the plan.

"We view it as some very limp amendments," Brohawn said.

Owners whose property was taken out of the condemnation portion of the bill, however, welcomed the effort. Jack and Nicola Liedsch, owners of The Vault night club on the southwest corner of Eutaw and West Baltimore streets poured $1 million into the old bank building and faced losing it. Under the amendments to the bill, the business will be spared.

"They're thrilled," said the Leidsch's attorney, Richard Bloch. "They poured their hearts and souls into that business."

For shop owners, the BDC proposes creating a list of merchants who want to stay downtown. The amendment calls for the BDC to meet with those merchants and help them obtain financial assistance packages, including city, state and federal grants.

In addition, the amendments call for eight properties, including the former Hecht's and Stewart's department stores, to be preserved. Historic preservationists including Baltimore Heritage and Preservation Maryland, have called for as many as 150 downtown properties to be placed on a historic preservation list and saved from condemnation.

Supporters and opponents of the plan will meet today for a discussion at 7 a.m. as guests of "The Larry Young Show," which will be broadcast live on WOLB-AM (1010) from the beauty shop of Young Cho at 112 W. Lexington St.

Pub Date: 4/07/99

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