City won't sell school in new art district

System's turnabout changes area's plan

March 22, 2002|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

Plans to turn the area north of Pennsylvania Station into Baltimore's newest arts and entertainment district hit a snag this week when city school officials said they wanted to reopen a school they closed last year, even though the city housing department was within weeks of naming a private developer for it.

The former Mildred D. Monroe Elementary School at 1600 Guilford Ave. was one of three properties near the train station that the city housing department offered for development last fall as part of an effort to create the "Station North" arts and entertainment district.

Several bids came in, including one from an Annapolis developer who proposed to acquire all three properties and invest more than $70 million to build apartments, offices, parking and a community center to anchor the arts district.

In response to the school system's request to have the Guilford Avenue property back, the housing department rescinded its offer to sell the school, but is moving ahead with plans to choose developers for the other two properties.

The decision, announced at a community meeting this week, is a particular setback for T. Conrad Monts, the Annapolis-based developer who bid for all three properties. Monts proposed to save the oldest portion of the school for a community center and tear down the rest to make way for a 700-car garage with 162 apartments on top, at a cost of about $32.5 million.

The garage was to provide parking space for office tenants of the two other parcels that Monts wants to develop, the former Railway Express building at 1501 St. Paul St. and a vacant lot in the 1700 block of N. Calvert St. The proposed investment there is nearly $40 million.

Monts said at the community meeting that he still hopes to be chosen as the developer for two other city parcels and is working to find another location to provide parking. "It comes at an awful time, but there are other options," he said. "We think we'll have it addressed shortly."

Other bids for the school property came from the Greenmount West Community Development Corp., which proposed a $1.3 million community center that would include a program training people to restore old buildings, and a nonprofit group called Labourers for Jesus Inc., which proposed a community outreach center.

The school is within a 100-acre district that has been named a state arts and entertainment district. The designation provides a state income tax break for qualified artists working and living in the area and a 10-year tax break for owners of commercial buildings renovated for arts uses.

Mark Smolarz, chief operating officer of the school system, said officials want to use the Mildred Monroe school to create a diagnostic center where 50 to 75 pupils can be evaluated at a time.

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