City staff OKs plan for West Street

Restaurant, boutique concept needs council approval


April 11, 2001|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

The owners of a chic Asian bistro on West Street have won the nod of city staff to rehabilitate five 100-year-old buildings on the street that are supposed to screen a proposed city parking garage nearby.

Gavin Buckley and Jody Danek -- owners of the 2 1/2 -year-old Tsunami restaurant -- and their partners have proposed an upscale restaurant, fashion boutique, gift shop and salon and day spa for the buildings on the city's Knighton property, which they say would bring sophistication to the strip and launch it into the 21st century.

The businesses, which would be run by partners of their venture, West Village Corp., would be aimed at the young, hip professionals who the businessmen say are a growing faction in the historic town.

"They have money to spend. They are worldly," said Buckley, 38, a native of Australia. "They love Annapolis for its charm, but they long for the urban concepts."

The five buildings -- crumbling structures whose historic charm and worth have been debated -- were saved by a city council measure that required the city to give first consideration to bids that would rehabilitate them.

The city received four proposals for the property, and two involved demolition of all five buildings. The other would have rehabilitated three.

The city council must decide whether it will approve the staff recommendation, choose one of the other proposals or seek new bids.

Representatives from the city's offices of planning and zoning, purchasing and economic development and a member of the mayor's staff made the recommendation.

Mayor Dean L. Johnson, whose previous attempt to demolish the buildings was thwarted by the council in the 11th hour, said yesterday that he is disappointed by the West Village proposal but that the council's mandate to preserve the buildings made it the only option.

"The buildings do not reflect the character that we want the finished West Street to have," Johnson said. But "the council directed the administration to do something and we have done that. I am disappointed -- it really does not meet the neighborhood needs."

Johnson said he feared the proposal would not adequately screen the large parking garage he wants for the site. He said he favored a proposal by local developer Phil Dunn and his venture, West Street Partners LLC, that would have razed all the structures and included a 7,000-square-foot grocery store as part of a three-story building.

Alderman Louise Hammond, whose ward includes the property, said she likes what she has seen of the West Village proposal and thinks it fits the needs and wishes of the community, who she said overwhelmingly supported the buildings' preservation.

A second part of the staff's recommendation would have the city retain the vacant corner, perhaps for city offices or support space for the garage.

Hammond called this "ludicrous."

"We have for the last three years fought the mayor's attempt to put some part of City Hall out there on West Street and take that property off of the tax rolls," said Hammond, who said the community and a committee that studied the project did not support the city keeping that lot. "When is City Hall going to stop bulldozing ahead with their ideas and listen to what the city council and the community have said?"

The staff recommended the city take the corner lot instead of granting West Village its entire proposal, which would have constructed an L-shaped, 2 1/2 -story building there. Buckley said his venture would have suggested a home furnishing and housewares store for the first floor with two condominium apartments above.

Although few other developers bid on the rehabilitation, Danek, 33, said their proposal will work.

"What makes this plan viable is we are tenant owners," he said.

Buckley and Danek said they would run the restaurant, which would include a cafe and a grocery and wine shop.

The fashion boutique -- Astrid & Simone -- would be run by Buckley's wife and Tsunami partner, Julie Williams, and a partner, Gabrielle Herbst.

Danek's girlfriend, Kristin Lewis, would run the gift shop, Object, and venture partner Matt Hudson would run Stella Salon and Day Spa. Another partner, Ben Purcell, would handle construction. Three of the buildings would include residential apartments on the second floors.

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