City's west side buyout to begin

Offers to be made on 15 buildings in Hippodrome area

November 20, 1999|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Baltimore development officials will begin buying out and relocating after Christmas about 20 shops on the block opposite the Hippodrome theater as part of the city's efforts to rebuild downtown's struggling west side.

Replacing the rundown block of stores bounded by Eutaw, Howard, Baltimore and Fayette streets will be hundreds of apartments and dozens of shops built by one of three developers competing for the project, city officials said yesterday.

The proposals to be evaluated by the Baltimore Development Corp. board and Mayor-elect Martin O'Malley include a 20-story apartment tower with shops facing the Vaudeville-era theater at 12 N. Eutaw St. The Hippodrome is slated for renovations costing more than $50 million.

O'Malley stood beside outgoing Mayor Kurt Schmoke, Orioles owner Peter Angelos, Sen. Paul Sarbanes and other officials during a news conference on the project yesterday at Lexington Market.

O'Malley, who as a city councilman voted against a bill allowing the city to seize properties as part of the redevelopment effort, said he would like the block's developer to include as many existing shopkeepers as is practical.

"I hope to make this a development project in which they [the shopkeepers] feel involved and feel they have a voice," said O'Malley, who asked the store owners to stand during the news conference.

Angelos, who is proposing to build a hotel on Pratt Street across from the Baltimore Convention Center as part of the west side revitalization, is serving as chairman of a group of business leaders supporting the effort, called West Side Renaissance Inc.

"I am pleased to be part of this effort to restore the west side of the city to its original attractiveness, to make it even better than it was, and to ensure that Baltimore remains a major American city for years to come," said Angelos.

Once the heart of the city's thriving shopping district, Eutaw and Howard streets deteriorated with the growth of suburban malls in the 1970s. The block is now marred by graffiti and boarded-up windows; and pawn shops have replaced retail stores.

Using a $3 million loan from the Fannie Mae mortgage company, the Baltimore Development Corp. over the next 30 days will begin making offers to the owners of more than 15 buildings, said Sharon Grinnell, chief operating officer of the city development agency.

The buildings house about 20 businesses, including the 70-year-old Hippodrome Hatters at 15 N. Eutaw St., Sunny's Surplus at the corner of Eutaw and Baltimore streets, and the Paramount Hotel at 8 N. Howard St.

The city has contracts for two appraisals on each of the buildings, said Grinnell. The city will use the higher of the two appraisals to make offers to buy the buildings.

If the owners dislike the offers, they may hire their own appraisers to make an estimate for the city to consider, said Grinnell. If owners refuse to sell, the city may condemn the properties, take the buildings and make the owners negotiate in court for a price.

M. J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., said it will be at least three months before the city asks the shop owners to move. The city will offer the shopkeepers money to relocate or close, Brodie said.

Brodie said he is "very confident" the block's developer will offer some of the shopkeepers spaces in the new apartment and retail complex. The city will require the developer to meet with the business owners to discuss the possibility of offering leases to them, Brodie said.

Lou Boulmetis, owner of the Hippodrome Hatters shop founded by his grandfather in 1930, said he objects to the "secrecy" with which the city has planned to seize the businesses of area merchants. Baltimore Development Corp. meetings to discuss the west side revitalization effort have been closed to the public and press.

"This was all done behind closed doors, with the Baltimore Development Corp. hiding behind their quasi-governmental status to perpetrate this crime on the merchants," said Boulmetis.

Young Cho, owner of the Wig House Beauty Salon at 112 W. Lexington St., said she worries she won't have the money to keep her son in school at the Peabody Conservatory of Music if the city takes away her 24-year-old business. She has received a letter from city saying her business would be bought out in another stage of the west side redevelopment effort.

"I'm very upset that they are asking me to move out," said Cho. "It's ruining my whole life. I'm 56 years old and too old to start all over again."

The three development groups competing to rebuild the area near the Hippodrome are led by A & R Development Corp., Home Properties and Bank of America.

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