3 options for Belvedere Square revealed

Crowd gathers to hear urban designer's ideas

January 07, 2000|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

More than 100 people crowded into a North Baltimore church last night to get a first look at one retail designer's architectural ideas on how to spruce up and attract tenants to struggling Belvedere Square.

Starting with property developer James J. Ward III's proposal to tear down more than half the shopping center and build a Walgreens drugstore and Metro Food Market, Seth Harry of the Neighborhood Design Center asked the audience to envision the possibilities.

"This is not a presentation of solutions," he said. "Rather, it's the alternatives available to the community and hopefully available to the developer."

In a two-hour meeting dominated by residents seeking answers and peppered with merchants' pleas for the community to help the shopping center, Harry struggled to keep the focus on his design plans.

"I'm concerned that you're talking to a roomful of people, showing us the best way to deal with a Metro and a Walgreens," said one man who did not identify himself. "But you're talking to a roomful of people who don't want a Metro or a Walgreens."

Harry specializes in Main Street redevelopment projects and said he has most recently worked on mixed-use commercial centers in traditional neighborhoods. Belvedere Square is in such an area. He prepared three possibilities -- two based on Ward's plans for the center and one based on residents' desire to keep the buildings intact.

In the first option, Harry drew the grocery store in place of the northern building, extended the southern building for Walgreens, and added parking between Belvedere Square and Staples and at the northwest corner of York Road and Belvedere Avenue.

In the second option, Harry added a traffic circle and median strip to give the square a new gateway and improve traffic flow through the shopping strip.

in the third option, Harry kept the buildings, added the traffic circle and a wide median with on-street parking in place of a lot.

Features included

The drawings include a variety of tree-lined strips, traffic circle fountains and pedestrian-friendly walkways. The designer situated the grocery store so that a display and coffee bar would face the street, and added towers and other features. By building rooftop parking at the supermarket, Harry said, his plans include enough spaces without requiring the suburban-style huge lot in front.

Harry was asked by the Belvedere Square Action Group to draft an architectural drawing of the area, finding common ground in the conflicting wishes of the community and Ward.

In November, an umbrella group of neighborhood associations sponsored a planning session among residents, businesses, churches, nonprofit organizations, architects, planners, developers and real estate experts as well as state and local governments. More than 120 participants broke into nine working groups, each of which produced a detailed sketch of how York Road and Belvedere Avenue could be made more attractive to shoppers and new tenants.

Harry attempted to meld those nine concepts and Ward's most recent proposal.

Although Ward's large-scale retail ideas have been criticized by residents, some tenants in the square say they are eager for company.

"I just want to see stores in here," said Dian Miller, owner of Techlab Photo Imaging. "I'm not going to stand back and pick and choose and see nothing happen because of all the roadblocks, which is what is happening with all the neighborhood associations."

Alan Bertaux of Framin' Place said that unless the shopping center turns around, he will take his framing shop elsewhere -- despite a $40,000 investment.

"You might have your wish lists," he told the crowd, "but if we don't do something soon, you are going to have nothing at all but rats and drunks in the streets."

Group to discuss options

The Govanstowne Business Association, which includes 220 businesses from 43rd Street to the city line, has not taken a position on Ward's plans. Director Susan Hodges said the group had been waiting for the urban planner's presentation and will meet soon to discuss alternatives.

In its heyday, Belvedere Square offered a mix of mostly locally owned shops whose merchants knew their customers' names and tastes. But since its opening in 1986, about 40 stores have gone out of business or pulled out of a complex that had been praised for its marketplace concept.

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