City reviews 3 proposals for Fells Point parking lot

Plans submitted for office building, inn, retail shops

Part of empowerment zone

July 09, 1999|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

City officials are considering three proposals that would replace a Fells Point parking lot with a bed-and-breakfast, an office building or retail shops.

Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development agency, said yesterday that it received two unsolicited proposals in April to develop the city-owned site at South Caroline and Lancaster streets, about a block north of the harbor, then, abiding by city policy, issued a request for additional plans.

One plan envisions offices and retail shops with a 425-space parking garage and 30 private garages that could be leased by area residents. Another proposal would allow the Black Olive restaurant on Bond Street to build a separate site with a cafe, market, catering facility and a 10-room bed and breakfast. The third plan calls for a 400-space garage and a 100,000-square-foot office building, to be occupied in large part by the engineering firm Whitman, Requardt and Associates.

BDC Executive Vice President Andrew Frank said the agency considers two main factors when deciding what proposals to approve.

"We look at the benefits to the city, and by that I mean jobs and taxes, and the extent to which the developer is asking for city assistance and whether or not it is justified," he said.

The 55,000-square-foot site is in an empowerment zone, which means tax breaks and low-interest loans for the developer that is chosen.

As part of the review process, Frank said, the developers are required to meet with community groups to present their plans and answer questions. Additionally, the BDC will form an advisory committee that will include city staff and community members.

The BDC will probably make a recommendation to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke in September, Frank said.

"Everyone is always complaining that they want a parking garage, and here's a proposal to build one," said Larry Silverstein, president of Mason Dixon Capital Management, which pitched the retail-and-office space project. Mason Dixon would co-own the site with CAM Construction Co. Inc. "I'm assuming this will be embraced as [Fells Point residents'] favorite plan, but it's hard to say," he said.

Silverstein is developing two other Fells Point sites, both on Lancaster Street. Lancaster Square mixes office, retail and residential space, and Lancaster Mews is a five-home development.

The Caroline Street project that he proposed would cost about $7 million, Silverstein said, including the $250,000 he offered the city for the land. He said he had been envisioning such a plan and quickly put one together when he heard about the city's request for proposals.

Silverstein declined to name the retailers that might move in, but he said preliminary discussions indicate the site might hold a bank, a coffee shop or deli and a furniture store.

Stelios Spiliadis, who owns the Black Olive with his wife, Pauline and son, Dimitris, said he needs about 4,000 to 5,000 square feet of space to build a three- or four-story building that would allow the Greek restaurant to expand its services. The existing restaurant would remain where it is.

"We would make the [new building's] design and height such that it blends very nicely with what is behind it," he said, adding that it would be made of brick.

"Caroline Street is going to be the entrance to Fells Point, and whatever is built has to be a building that is a beautiful aesthetic transition from the harbor to Fells Point," Spiliadis said. "If it fails to do that, I feel, the business would fail as well."

Spiliadis said he hopes to work with the other developers and become an "add on" to either of their projects. If his budget allows -- he estimates his new building would cost about $1.5 million -- he will hire developer Bill Struever of Struever Bros.

Dick Lortz, managing partner of Whitman, Requardt, of the 2300 block of St. Paul St., declined to comment on the project. Frank said the office building and garage project would cost about $15 million, according to the proposal.

John Horn, treasurer of the Fells Point Community Organization, said the group is gathering information and hasn't formed an official opinion on any of the proposals, although they will likely be discussed at the next meeting, scheduled for Monday.

In another announcement yesterday, BDC President M. J. "Jay" Brodie said M. Celeste Amato was promoted to director of economic development for East Baltimore. Amato has worked at the BDC since 1996 and was most recently its director of institutional development.

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