Grocery chain, city make deal for store

Giant Food commits to building supermarket in Waverly neighborhood

Other sites are scouted

January 09, 2002|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

A year of concerted effort by the O'Malley administration produced a handshake and a deal yesterday to work with Giant Food Inc. to build a new supermarket in a Northeast Baltimore neighborhood, and as many as three other yet-unidentified city sites.

The agreement was a breakthrough for Mayor Martin O'Malley, who has made a priority of bringing more grocery stores to under-served city neighborhoods -- which he views as a stabilizing force and quality-of-life matter.

"It took two years to establish optimism in the minds of investors," O'Malley said in his City Hall office last night, after meeting with Giant Food officials to discuss details of the first proposed project.

The Waverly neighborhood site chosen by Giant is a vacant building that formerly housed a Super Fresh market at Gorsuch Avenue and Old York Road, with a parking lot across the street. The competing chain's supermarket was closed several years ago.

Barry F. Scher, Giant's vice president for public affairs, said the Landover-based company is scouting several other locations in Baltimore and Washington with a commitment to build more urban stores.

The Waverly site is "at the top of our list," Scher said. "No doubt about it."

A key component of the plan calls for demolishing the old building, city and company officials said.

"We have a tight time frame with the city [government] as an aggressive partner," Scher said.

City officials said they hoped that groundbreaking would take place in less than a year.

Giant and city officials said the city must make a number of street, utility and other infrastructure changes, such as closing off an alleyway to enlarge the land parcel. Yesterday's talks left some issues for city officials to sort out, both sides said.

City officials said they expected Giant would pare down the size of its proposed store from its suburban model.

For a city of 651,154, according to the 2000 census, Baltimore has only 46 supermarkets -- an inadequate number, city officials have said.

O'Malley assigned Kevin Malachi, a city Department of Housing and Community Development official, the task of attracting development by more major grocery chains. Yesterday's meeting was the first result of that effort.

Waverly, long a blue-collar neighborhood near Memorial Stadium, has experienced some fraying around the edges in recent years. The agreement with Giant comes just as the stadium -- an anchor that helped to define the neighborhood and draw people to the area for almost 50 years -- nears the last stage of demolition.

Waverly received a "Main Street" designation last year through a program developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation to help revive ailing city business districts. Signs of renewal efforts have cropped up, from Waverly banners on streetlights to pedestrian traffic lights.

Myles Hoenig, a community leader, characterized Waverly as "very pedestrian, with seniors and others without transport."

Hoenig said he hopes that a Giant supermarket would add vitality to the area and give other businesses a reason to set up shop along Greenmount Avenue, Waverly's main street. Some storefronts there sit closed and dark.

In another sign of expansion for the area, international oil and solar power giant BP announced recently that it expects to enlarge the Amoco service station at East 33rd Street and Greenmount Avenue.

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