Preservation panel OKs creating historic district

Urban Landscape

Renovation: Downtown Baltimore businesses could gain financial help if 24 blocks are added to the National Register of Historic Places.

September 16, 1999|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

THE WEST SIDE of downtown Baltimore appears likely to become Maryland's newest federally designated historic district.

After listening to nearly three hours of testimony Tuesday night, Baltimore's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation voted 4-1 to support the nomination of a 24-block section of downtown to the National Register of Historic Places.

As a result of CHAP's action, the nomination will be sent to a state preservation panel, the Governor's Consulting Committee, for consideration. A public hearing has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Oct. 26 at the People's Resource Center, 100 Community Place in Crownsville.

If the Governor's Consulting Committee approves the nomination, it would be forwarded to the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the "Market Center Historic District" probably would be listed on the National Register within 90 days.

Local preservationists say the creation of a district on the west side of downtown Baltimore would encourage renovation and restoration of older buildings by making property owners eligible for local, state and federal tax credits for historic preservation.

The area is bounded roughly by Park Avenue and Liberty Street on the east, Baltimore Street on the south, Pearl Street on the west and Centre Street on the north. The nomination was sponsored by the Baltimore Architectural Foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes awareness and understanding of the city's architectural treasures and education about architecture in general.

Foundation President Charles Duff said the group is not a preservation organization and usually does not take positions in local preservation battles. But he said members of the foundation concluded that nominating the west side to be a historic district was consistent with the group's mission.

"This is more than a preservation fight," he said. "The architecture of the Market Center area is not only some of the oldest in the city but also some of the most interesting."

Duff said he believes the district designation will help stimulate private investment throughout the area. "If we want to give the old buildings of Market Center a fighting chance, we must list them on some register that enables property owners to get tax credits."

The nomination was opposed by representatives of the Baltimore Development Corp. and the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, which are working on a $350 million plan to revitalize the area. Plans presented to City Council early this year indicated that many buildings could be demolished rather than fixed up.

BDC President M. Jay Brodie said he did not want to debate the substance of the nomination, but believes the timing is inappropriate and wanted CHAP to delay deciding. He said his agency is in the middle of "active discussions" with prospective developers for the area and wanted to conclude those negotiations before the historic district discussions proceed.

But CHAP executive director Kathleen Kotarba said delay was not an option because the commission had a legal obligation to vote on the nomination.

If CHAP did not act by Sept. 26, she said, the nomination would have moved to the state panel for consideration anyway.

Preservation commissioners said they were swayed by testimony from several merchants and others who favor the nomination.

Lou Boulmetis, owner of Hippodrome Hatters, called the tax incentives for historic preservation an "exciting and enticing prospect" for business people.

Another persuasive speaker was Young Robinson, a merchant who suggested that the Market Center area could be the next Georgetown.

Just as the Oriole Park baseball stadium wouldn't be as pleasing without the old B&O Warehouse, the Market Center area needs a balance of old and new, she said. "We have to take every opportunity to save every building we have."

Hopkins Homewood campus to be topic of forum

Paul Taylor, director of capital projects for the Johns Hopkins University, will discuss new buildings and other projects planned for Hopkins' Homewood campus at a free public forum at noon Wednesday at Hopkins' Downtown Center, Charles and Saratoga streets.

At noon Sept. 29, at the same place, five real estate experts will discuss the resurgence of prime residential properties in Baltimore, and on Oct. 6, Frank Lucas, president of the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects, will discuss design issues.

Pub Date: 9/16/99

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