Council poised to OK project

West side of Baltimore target of redevelopment under $350 million plan

Some businesses opposed

18-block renewal would provide shops, apartments downtown

May 03, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore City Council is expected to give final approval tonight to a bill that would allow the city to embark on the largest downtown redevelopment since the Inner Harbor.

A majority of council members support the city's plans to condemn 110 businesses and properties on the west side of downtown in an effort to revive the city center during the next eight years.

Supporters of the $350 million plan, including Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, say the renovation will link the Inner Harbor, Charles Center and the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Leading the effort is the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, a Baltimore charity that has proposed contributing $71 million to the redevelopment plan.

Opponents of the 18-block renewal include shop owners and preservationists concerned about losing businesses and historical buildings.

One building recently removed from the condemnation list is Health Care for the Homeless in the 100 block of Park Ave. Council members expressed concern that condemning the nonprofit group's building could eliminate services necessary for Baltimore's needy.

"We can now turn our attention to more positive efforts," said Jeff Singer, the group's director. "We're glad that the City Council and May- or Schmoke recognized our work as valuable."

Changes to measure

Other changes to the bill since its introduction in December include:

* Creation of a committee made up of shop owners, developers, preservationists and African-American entrepreneurs to help guide development in the area.

* Establishing a list of condemned businesses interested in remaining downtown and helping them obtain financing.

* Encouraging the preservation of historical and architecturally significant buildings with small, diverse, locally owned businesses.

* Removing 17 properties from the condemnation list. Most of the buildings are in the 400 block of W. Baltimore St. The properties were removed after the university withdrew its interest in the sites.

By supporting the project, the city hopes to resuscitate its sagging downtown into a 24-hour center. The proposal would involve creating more than 2,000 apartments and street-level shops.

Hippodrome renovation

The plan is tied to the proposed $53 million renovation of Hippodrome Theater at 12 N. Eutaw St. With state assistance, the city hopes to transform the vintage 3,000-seat 1914 theater into a performing arts center.

The council will meet at 5 p.m. in Council Chambers of City Hall.

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