City Council measure on megastores on agenda

Merchants oppose plan to develop retail center

April 17, 2000|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

It was only a matter of time. With new homeowners coming in and renovating old homes across the city, warehouse-style superstores were sure to follow.

At tonight's City Council meeting, the ball might start rolling for a $50 million urban retail market on a former rail yard in southern Baltimore's Port Covington. It could bring up to 600 jobs to the area.

Residents in Locust Point, close to Port Covington, support the jobs and easier shopping the development would bring. But mom-and-pop store owners in Federal Hill fear for their businesses.

Council members from the 1st District will introduce an amendment to the ordinance governing the site, which calls for a mixed use of office space, a hotel, convention meeting space, industrial use and retail, that would allow the retail megastores to move into a proposed 400,000-square-foot waterfront center.

Connecticut-based developer Starwood Ceruzzi has not signed tenants yet, but is hoping to attract stores such as Target, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Sam's Club or PETsMART, said Ken Goldberg, senior vice president for Starwood Ceruzzi.

The company signed a contract with CSX Corp. to buy 45 acres on part of a peninsula east of Hanover Street, but has not closed the deal. If all goes according to plan, Port Covington stores would be open early 2002.

Some say people are leaving the city to shop in superstores anyway, and it's better to keep the money within city limits. Others say the megastores will sharply reduce the number of shoppers in small stores.

"I don't think Federal Hill can take a hit like this. I fear our business can't compete with the giants," said Anna Epsilandis, owner of Big Jim's Deli in Cross Street Market. "They sell cheaper than we can buy."

Epsilandis said she doesn't think a megastore depot is appropriate for waterfront property.

"With the limited amount of waterfront property, we're going to put in a shopping center? That's the best use for it?"

Tom and Betty Patton, owners of Singer's Hardware on South Charles Street in Federal Hill, said a megastore would put them out of business. Singer's has been around since 1920.

"I'm against any home improvement store. I'm against Wal-Mart," Tom Patton said. "It would just be a matter of time until we go out of business. Home Depot opened five miles from us and we still haven't recovered."

But Joyce Bauerle, president of Locust Point Civic Association, said the area could use the jobs. Bob Davis of Fort McHenry Business Association also said it sounds like a good plan.

"We're very excited about it," Bauerle said. "We don't have many small businesses here."

Council members in the 1st District -- John L. Cain, Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr. and Lois Garey -- said they would introduce the amendment today so they can control it.

"There's a need for this. It's a matter of at whose expense," D'Adamo said. "The selling point is what they're willing to do for the community. A rec center, a PAL center, something like that. These communities are in need and the city can't support all those needs."

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