At a time when merchants on the west side of downtown Baltimore are facing displacement and disruptions from $350 million in construction projects, the local merchants association elected a new leader yesterday who pledged to fight for the protection of small businesses.
The Market Center Merchants Association voted 13-7 to select Alvin Levi, owner of the 55-year-old family-run Howard Street Jewelers at 112 N. Howard St., to replace developer Milton Rosenbaum, who had been the group's president for 10 years.
Rosenbaum, former owner of Hosiery World at 211 W. Saratoga St., angered some members of the organization by not speaking out for merchants whose shops will be condemned by the city and by failing to tell members that he was seeking city approval for his own 10,000-square-foot retail complex at Eutaw and Saratoga streets.
Kristy Park, a member of the group's board and co-owner of Fayette General Discount at 204 W. Fayette St., said she voted for Levi because she was upset that Rosenbaum never disclosed his interest in the $1 million project.
Rosenbaum's project would be built on vacant land at the southeast corner of Eutaw and Saratoga and would not displace any shops. But in March 1999, he testified in favor of a city law that allows the condemnation of more than 100 buildings in an adjacent 18-block area on the west side of downtown.
"Milt Rosenbaum made merchants very unhappy because he never raised any concerns about the average merchants who will be displaced," said Park. "When he spoke, he was speaking for himself."
Levi, 53, was president of the Downtown Merchants Association from 1975 to 1990. A write-in candidate for association president, Levi will take office Tuesday.
"During his 10-year term, I think Milt Rosenbaum was an outstanding president, whose participation and leadership will be greatly missed," Levi said.
Levi said he also favors the west-side urban renewal project, but wants to protect merchants by asking the city to require developers to sign contracts stipulating that they will enable pedestrian access to shops during construction.
Rosenbaum has said he faced no conflict of interest in his project and did nothing wrong by not disclosing his project to the association.
Rosenbaum said yesterday that he resigned from the association after the election because he is retiring from his retail business and had no more interest in the group.