Differing perspectives on the history of Belvedere...


July 15, 2000

Differing perspectives on the history of Belvedere Square

I have had one of my stores in Belvedere Square for the past five years and I, too, used to believe that the only person at fault for the shopping center's gradual demise was James Ward.

After all, why couldn't he get some decent "magnet" store in that center? Why were tenants leaving? Was he being too greedy and inflexible?

As far I now know, Mr. Ward is the one who managed to revitalize a commercial district, which was in trouble until 1984, and give it new life for some 14 years. I am told that he loaned money to some small "ma and pa" shops who previously worked out of their trucks.

In addition, many of the national tenants to whom he gave money went out of business nationally. And the businesses who left for "better pastures" went out of business, too.

Several revitalization proposals were put forth before the community and every one of them was shot down, either by the community or city officials. The community doesn't want large stores, like Old Navy. They don't want a grocery store, either.

They don't even want a Burger King to take the place of Chili's, which left a few weeks ago. They want small, quaint Georgetown-like shops. But no one seems to realize that small shops come when a viable "draw" store exists, not the other way around.

To give you an example of the community's intransigence and unrealism, at one of the meetings I attended, a volunteer architect presented slides showing attractive renovated buildings and a new pedestrian-only area where Belvedere Avenue now cuts through the center.

Community participants started complaining about the fact that some of them may no longer be able to make a left turn (or right turn, perhaps) from Northern Parkway onto their street.

I tried to bring them back on course, pointing out that if the center goes bust, only rats and vagrants will be making left and right turns all over the place. To no avail. Since then, I don't bother trying to attend these meetings, as they are a waste of my time.

Frankly, I can't believe that this sort of textbook case of failure par excellence would have been allowed to go that far under the leadership of Mayor William Donald Schaefer.

I don't know what sins Mr. Ward may have committed in the past, but if good journalism requires balanced reporting, then I think it's high time to take a look at the community and its elected officials for a change, and not just Mr. Ward.

From a strictly business standpoint, I don't see how this center is ever going to come to life again unless a good anchor or "draw" store is brought in, whether the community likes it or not.

Once a good draw is in place, the little guys like me will start applying for space again. If not, I will finally decide that it's time to kiss my investment goodbye and go look for another more business-friendly area.

Incidentally, I am in the process of opening another store in the Baltimore area, just in case.

Al Bertaux

Ellicott City

The writer is owner of Bertaux Gallery & Framin' Place.

In 1986, James Ward took a half-empty strip center and a vacant three-story department store and created Belvedere Square.

Soon after came the Schmoke administration, which put the city in a tailspin. Then, through no fault of Mr. Ward, most of the national tenants closed their stores across the country.

Chili's Grill and Bar, which had been waiting for an answer from the city about Mr. Ward's plans, decided to close when their security expenses surpassed their rent.

Now, the neighborhood association, which didn't want the original Belvedere Square and fought it for two years, wants everything to be the way it was when Belvedere Square was built in 1986.

But times have changed. There are no more Urban Development Action Grants available, retailers demand larger stores, and shopping centers need anchors, as you stated in your July 5 editorial ("Belvedere Square disaster").

To blame Mr. Ward, who has put more money into York Road than any other developer, is absurd. More than a year ago, he came up with a redevelopment plan that would have brought back Belvedere Square and, additionally, would have saved the historic Senator Theatre.

What Belvedere Square needs is some leadership from the city. Stop blaming Mr. Ward. Stop worrying about the past; focus on the future before it's too late.

Commit to a course of action and put it into motion to save Belvedere Square, the remaining merchants and the residents.

Virginia Marks


It warmed our hearts to see your editorial July 5 on Belvedere Square.

As 20-year-plus residents of this area, we have lived through the ups and downs of Belvedere Square's commercial area.

It was opposition to the extent of James Ward's proposed development in the early 1980s that fortified this neighborhood, brought a cohesive group of like-minded people together.

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