MAYBE she was doing some long-range campaigning for mayor, but give Joan Pratt, the city comptroller, a few points for sticking up for Baltimore taxpayers the other day. When the new mayor, Martin O'Malley, came rushing into his first Board of Estimates meeting, hot to seal a deal with the Cordish Co. for rejuvenation of the city-owned Brokerage complex, Pratt held up her hands. The late Hyman Pressman, the old City Hall watchdog, would have been proud.
All Pratt wanted was time -- a week for city perusal of a complicated deal. She felt the deal wasn't a good one: 25 percent of the profits for the city, but only after Cordish gets operating and management expenses covered, and reaps a 16 percent return on its investment in the property. Its investment could range from $5 million to $10 million.
Basically, the city gets 25 percent of whatever's left. The Cordish Co. seems to have covered itself pretty good here.
Pratt thought it was a bad deal, said so, and put O'Malley on the spot. O'Malley and others on the board approved the deal anyway, 4-1. Pratt accused the new mayor of kowtowing to a politically influential developer.
"She is grandstanding," said the developer, David Cordish. "She wants to be mayor."
But it's not the first time Pratt dissented with good cause on a Board of Estimates deal.
Allow me to draw your attention again to Belvedere Square, in North Baltimore, O'Malley's old councilmanic district. The Pier 1 store, at York Road and Belvedere Avenue, the remaining anchor of what had been a busy shopping center across from the Senator Theatre, is about to close. The signs are up. A clerk told me the store will close when its shelves are empty, and some shelves have been removed.
It's the latest bad news for the place. Belvedere Square has been on a long, slow slide when it should have been jumping.
Here's the thing: In April 1998, the Board of Estimates agreed to forgive a $1.7 million government loan to Belvedere Square's developer, Jim Ward. In return, the area was supposed to get $400,000 in renovations and efforts to attract tenants. And Ward remained as the main man behind Belvedere Square. "The property has been poorly managed," former City Council President Lawrence Bell III said. "We don't seem to have the leverage to move Mr. Ward out of the picture."
Despite that comment, Bell went along with the new deal to forgive the loan, and the city lost any leverage it had.
Pratt was the lone dissenting vote.
So maybe Mayor O'Malley was right to be bullish on the Cordish deal, in the hopes of getting things moving at the listless Brokerage, near Port Discovery. And maybe David Cordish was correct: Joan Pratt wants to run for mayor in the next millennium.
But she made a point. She scored some, too.
Sounds like a Grisham novel
And you have to wonder what the new mayor was thinking when he woke up yesterday to discover that his father-in-law was suing Peter Angelos over that multibillion-dollar tobacco settlement. If John Grisham is looking for material for a new novel, he should come to Baltimore and sit a while.
The slipper fits
If I had 10 thumbs, I'd put about eight of them up for the Baltimore Opera's production of "La Cenerentola," at the Lyric through Sunday. It's bright, lively, funny, helped by the comic sense Rossini brought to the music for his take on the "Cinderella" story. The sets and costumes are terrific. It's boffo opera buffo. No one dies of consumption, either.
Unicorn Bar auctioned
The Unicorn Bar, one of the oldest establishments serving Baltimore's gay community, went on the block yesterday, and real estate speculators turned out for the bidding in one of the city's hottest areas -- Boston Street, between Fells Point and Canton. The auctioneer was Larry Makowski of Auction Marketing Specialists. About 70 people stood in South Patterson Park Avenue, a block east of the Sip & Bite, for the 11 a.m. sale. A man with shocking blond hair and a cashmere topcoat -- Michael Dellis, owner of Michael's Restaurant in Timonium -- made the winning offer. He bid $340,000 for the three-story corner property and the business inside.
Dellis grew up in the city, but he's spent a big chunk of his life in Baltimore County, running the popular, busy and palm-treed restaurant on York Road near the Maryland State Fairgrounds. Now, his sons are interested in city life, so they've been buying property with their father during the past year. "I was born in Highlandtown," Dellis said after yesterday's sale. "I tell my sons, `If I knew we were going to do this, we never would have moved out.' "