Group searches for ideas to save Belvedere Square

Residents, city planners meet with center's owner after months of mistrust

November 08, 1999|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

After a months-long stalemate over what to do about the ailing Belvedere Square shopping center in North Baltimore, key business leaders, city planners and residents have sat at the same table to map plans for the future.

More than 120 people -- including Jim Ward, owner of the half-vacant shopping complex, and Tom Kiefaber, owner of the nearby Senator Theatre -- gathered Saturday at Govans Presbyterian Church in the 5800 block of York Road to develop strategies to revive the area.

"It was a long process to bring all the interested parties to the table, to a place they could trust each other enough," said David Goldstein, a lawyer, resident and president of Belvedere Square Action Group.

The city planning department and Greater Homewood Community Corp. served as peacemakers between community leaders and Ward, whom some have blamed for the loss of Belvedere Square's tenants. Communication between Ward, who helped pay for the cost of the meeting, and the leaders had all but stopped during the summer.

"I think really there's been a lot of misunderstanding, but now they [residents] have a better understanding of what problems there are in bringing in new tenants. Like, we need more parking," Ward said.

Participants broke into nine working groups, each of which produced a detailed sketch of how the intersection of York Road and East Belvedere Avenue could be made more attractive to shoppers and new tenants.

Earlier this year, Ward proposed bringing a "big box" retailer, such as an Old Navy clothing store, to the site -- a plan that was roundly criticized by residents. Several of the working groups Saturday continued to resist the idea.

Some participants -- including several commercial real estate agents recruited by city planners to donate their time and advice -- recommended an area parking study. Other recommendations included adding fountains, brick crosswalks and more trees.

With few exceptions, the Senator -- where the world premiere of Barry Levinson's "Liberty Heights" was held last night -- was seen as the focal point of Belvedere Square. Most of the participants agreed it should remain so.

"I, for one, was very encouraged," said Kiefaber.

"Now, hopefully, we'll do something with those ideas," said Dwight Jackson, 48, an Evesham neighborhood resident.

The group plans to meet again Thursday.

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