Belvedere Square agreement expected

December 24, 2001|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

City officials are awaiting a financing plan from prospective redevelopers of Belvedere Square, and both sides expect a deal to be worked out next month, officials said last week.

A proposed marketplace for the deserted shopping complex in Northeast Baltimore was pitched two months ago by a development team made up of Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse, Manekin Corp. and the Hawkins Group, and received enthusiastic community reviews.

With an option on the site in place, developers said last week that they expect to present city officials with a financial plan to revive the ailing plaza in mid-January. City officials are counting on the proposal because if it falters, they may have to condemn the commercial property owned by James J. Ward III.

The main question for developers remains how much public financing they can depend on in the $24 million project. "Their proposal would bring life back to that [York and Belvedere] intersection, and we're anxious to move forward," deputy mayor Laurie Schwartz said. "With stable communities around, it's in everyone's interest to bring it back to life as a real draw."

Specifically, city officials said, redevelopers are seeking public funds for a new public parking structure, a subsidy for the proposed open-air marketplace and infrastructure improvements such as streetscaping. Schwartz noted that the parking garage would also help the nearby Senator Theatre's economic viability.

Since a public meeting in October, when a sketch of the concept was presented, community leaders have not heard from the development team, said Catherine Evans, president of the Belvedere Improvement Association.

Besides putting together the financing, the development team must also figure out what retail tenants the reconfigured, 105,000-square-foot complex could attract.

State officials said they are receptive to the effort. "We are working with them to determine which of our programs might be suitable for the project," said Tori Leonard, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Business and Economic Development.

"The state views this as good, Smart Growth investment," said Richard Alter of Manekin. "We're not there yet, but they're cooperative, and I'm cautiously optimistic that we'll have a bankable deal in January."

One possible source of funding is the One Maryland program, which funnels loans to the state's poorest jurisdictions, officials said.

If their vision succeeds, developers said that Belvedere Square would offer sidewalk stands with flowers, coffee, baked goods, cheese, poultry and fish. More office space would be built, and restaurants would bring more shoppers and moviegoers to the area.

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