West-side renewal plan gets go-ahead

Some council members worry over small business

April 27, 1999|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

The City Council gave preliminary approval last night to a redevelopment plan for the west side of Baltimore's downtown, a project expected to reinvigorate the retail center with new apartments and shopping.

"This is an opportunity to revitalize the downtown area of Baltimore City," said Council President Lawrence A. Bell III. "One thing that we continually need in our city is jobs, jobs and more jobs."

In June, Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development agency, unveiled the $350 million project for the area bounded roughly by Saratoga, Paca and Camden streets and Hopkins Plaza.

City officials hope to create 2,500 apartments and street-level shops, generating $2.3 million in new property taxes. The west-side redevelopment plan, if completed, would link the Inner Harbor, Charles Center and the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

The project coincides with a $53 million plan to renovate the Hippodrome, a 1914 theater in the first block of N. Eutaw St.

NationsBank announced last month that it will dedicate $100 million to develop and finance new projects in the renewal area, and the Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Foundation proposed investing $71 million in the old Stewart's department store at Howard and Lexington streets.

Some council members voiced concern last night that the redevelopment plan will displace small businesses.

"I think it's wrong," said 1st District Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., who voted against the plan. "I don't trust the city. I know how the city operates."

Third District Councilman Martin O'Malley said he was torn by the decision because he wants to see the area improved, but said he doesn't have sufficient assurances that small businesses will be protected. "I'm not comfortable with this at all. My gut is telling me no."

Fourth District Councilwoman Agnes B. Welch, council vice president, said several changes were made in the plan to protect businesses and agencies in the area, including Health Care for the Homeless.

Welch also said the city will help businesses relocate.

"I have spent many hours laboring over this bill, trying to be inclusive," Welch said.

Added 4th District Councilwoman Sheila Dixon: "We do have to move forward. This area does need to be revitalized."

In other matters, two bills were introduced that would allow the city to acquire land for the construction of two parking garages.

One would be bounded by Charles, Saratoga and Lexington streets and St. Paul Place; and the other by West, Patapsco, Cross and Marshall streets.

Pub Date: 4/27/99

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