FINALLY, there is positive movement in the long and dismal saga of the Belvedere Square shopping center. Two reputable developers are crunching the numbers to see how the eyesore can be revitalized. If those efforts fail, Mayor Martin O'Malley has announced he will seek to condemn the largely vacant North Baltimore property.
Of the two scenarios, a private sale to a credible investor would be far preferable. It would be quicker in ending the erratic absentee ownership of James Ward, who let the once-thriving complex go to ruin. The mayor's condemnation threat could well be the hammer that facilitates this outcome.
The two local developers showing an interest in Belvedere Square both have sterling track records: Mid-Atlantic Realty Trust of Timonium has turned around other old, deteriorated shopping centers, including York Road Plaza, just a few blocks north. Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse has proven its expertise in an imaginative reuse of properties others had written off, such as its American Can Co. redevelopment in Canton.
At this juncture, it is important not to get sidetracked by side issues. The focus must be strictly on Belvedere Square, which occupies both sides of Belvedere Avenue on the east side of York Road. Yes, owner James Ward also controls other key pieces of property in the vicinity. But their fate, for the time being, must be kept separate from that of Belvedere Square.
Similarly, the unrelated problems of the Senator Theatre should not clutter the agenda. If Belvedere Square changes hands, those other issues will be easier to resolve.
Mr. Ward's Belvedere Square flourished in the late 1980s. It still is surrounded by thriving residential areas with plenty of buying power. In a city that has woefully inadequate neighborhood retail opportunities, it is a test case. If it can be turned around, there might be hope for other areas as well.
There is no good economic reason why it can't be quickly revitalized, provided control is wrested from the current recalcitrant owner. Belvedere Square's symbolism is so potent, its degradation must be brought to a quick end.