In the wake of a preliminary deal to sell the Belvedere Square shopping center, Mayor Martin O'Malley has urged neighbors to be open to dealing with the newly arrived developer on the block: Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse.
"Hey, it's time to come to the table, give and take, have big and small retail," the mayor said in his weekly news conference at City Hall last week.
Expressing sympathy over the state of the once-vibrant complex, he said the sale might signal a turning point.
O'Malley challenged residents to abandon notions that are not economically viable - such as insisting on only small businesses at the plaza.
He also hinted that some residences might have to give way to parking lots, a notion that neighbors have rejected.
"Come up with a vision and plan, and let's go!" O'Malley told neighbors.
A neighborhood spokeswoman, Catherine Evans, said residents would entertain proposals for the stagnant shopping corridor but warned against making changes that wouldn't fit with the neighborhood's character.
Janet Marie Smith, a vice president at Struever Bros., said she had not spoken to O'Malley but welcomed the mayor's comments. "It sounds like we share the same philosophy and attitude," she said, adding that "every effort" will be made not to take away residential property to revive the center.
"We're sympathetic to the view that you don't destroy a neighborhood in order to save it," Smith said.
Compromise should prevail, the mayor added, noting that little existed in recent years between neighbors and Belvedere Square's former landlord.
Praising the surrounding neighborhoods for surviving the commercial corridor's decline, he blamed the square's owner, James Ward III, for "creating a nuisance" and forcing the city to pursue acquiring and condemning the property.
Although the mayor plans to press ahead with an urban renewal ordinance for the area under consideration by the City Council, the city's takeover might have been made moot when Struever Bros. and two business partners sealed an option last week to buy Belvedere Square.
Smith said that the neighborhood has come up with good ideas for revitalization that she plans to study and discuss with residents.
Evans, president of the Belvedere Improvement Association, said she and others look forward to meeting with Smith and principals from its partners, the Manekin Corp. and Hawkins Development Group.
"We're not ready to pop the corks, but we can buy the champagne," she said. Both Evans and city officials questioned the length of the option - one year - during which Struever Bros. can decide whether to buy the nearly vacant collection of small stores.
Smith said the span was a legal limit that she hoped to beat.
"Real money was expended, and it's in our self-interest to quickly figure it out," she said. The company, which helped revitalize the city's waterfront Canton neighborhood, intends to develop a plan for Belvedere Square in three to six months, she said.
Evans said the community had produced several documents, one in a public forum last year, which articulate its vision for making Belvedere Square a lively destination again for walkers and shoppers. "The question is the [community] scale," she said.
For example, she said, the community is not opposed to any grocery store, but would not be pleased to see an ordinary one. "Why dumb down someplace so special?" she asked.