Talks with national retailers boost west-side revival hopes

Officials, property owner confirm discussions with Target, Marshalls

January 16, 2002|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Talk about the possibility of luring two national discount retailers - Marshalls and Target - to downtown's west side has lifted hopes of reviving the once-bustling shopping area at Howard and Lexington streets.

The likelihood of either store's arrival is unclear, but officials and a major property owner confirmed yesterday that talks are under way.

Target and the city would have to resolve numerous issues, including a lack of parking. And the company, whose stores average 126,000 square feet, would have to comply with a preservation agreement Mayor Martin O'Malley signed last year limiting demolition.

The mayor's spokesman, Tony White, said O'Malley will honor the pledge, but thinks a major retail outlet could be accommodated by creatively reusing some existing buildings.

Marshalls is eyeing the first floor of the old Stewart's department store being renovated by its owner, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, confirmed David Stein, the foundation's planning director. The preservation deal would not be an issue there since no demolition is needed.

The pact could, however, affect the city's attempt to lure Target to the "superblock" bounded by Howard, Park Avenue, Lexington and Fayette streets. Because several buildings are protected, Target would have to conform partly to existing structures. Weinberg owns about half of the block.

Representatives of Marshalls and Target had no comment. Neither did Sharon R. Grinnell, west-side coordinator for Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development arm.

A move to the west side would be out of character for Target, with most of its 1,055 stores in strip malls. Its only inner-city store, in Minneapolis, has two levels and parking underneath.

Stein acknowledged parking is a "big question mark." But Ronald M. Kreitner, executive director of the business-funded WestSide Renaissance Inc., imagines an "urban model" with parking and maybe housing overhead.

Preservationists are intrigued. "I'm not necessarily threatened by Target," said Tyler Gearhart, executive director of Preservation Maryland. "We'd love to see them reuse buildings."

A retail influx would add to what Kreitner and others hope will be a growing residential sector. The Atrium opened last fall with 173 apartments, and Bank of America plans nearly 400 units at its Centerpoint development.

The Stewart's building will be ready in the fall, Stein said. Marshalls would fill the ground floor's 26,000 square feet, with office tenants taking upper levels.

The foundation and O'Malley have improved communication since a chilly spell last year, say Stein and Kreitner. O'Malley criticized Weinberg for moving slowly and threatened to take its property via condemnation.

Weinberg president Bernard Siegel blamed O'Malley for siding with preservationists, thereby wrecking the foundation's demolition-heavy plan to restore the faded retail district.

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