Four Baltimore-based development firms, including one that worked on renovating New York's Grand Central Station, are to announce plans today to revive the open-air market atmosphere that characterized Belvedere Square in its heyday.
Mayor Martin O'Malley is expected to announce that a $16 million deal to revitalize the ailing shopping center -- a flourishing gathering place only a decade ago -- has been hammered out during the past year, involving public and private investment and buying the retail center from James J. Ward III.
City officials said the only new tenant signed up is Loyola College, which will lease 10,000 square feet for office space for speech and hearing therapy and a doctoral program.
Even with no other new commitments, optimism ran high yesterday in advance of the 10 a.m. news conference today at Belvedere Square, off York Road just south of Northern Parkway.
"The market added so much flavor to the neighborhood, and it will once again, with fresh fish, fruit, meat, coffee," said Deputy Mayor Laurie Schwartz. "Restoration will make the center alive with activity again."
"We're going to recapture that excitement and do it better," said C. William Struever, a principal in the project. "We're great believers that retail is the driving force of revitalization."
Under Ward, the square opened in 1986 and hit its peak in the early 1990s, after which its fortunes gradually sank. Neighbors opposed other proposals for saving the center, because they lacked the small-town feel of Ward's original design.
In the rescue operation, city and state funds are expected to be part of the mix, Schwartz said, though no public parking structure will be built to support the 105,000-square-foot complex. It is now a mostly empty concrete expanse with a few shops left, such as Greg's Bagels.
Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, the Hawkins Development Group and the Manekin Corp. teamed in late 2000 to buy an option on Belvedere Square. Neighbors have worried for years about its decline.
More recently, the developers invited Williams Jackson Ewing Inc., which renovated Washington's Union Station and New York's Grand Central Station, to join the effort.
"We're thrilled they will be doing business in their back yard," Andrew Frank, vice president of the Baltimore Development Corp., said of the firm working on its home turf.
"This fits the profile of their project -- [attracting] a diverse tenant mix and an exciting public space with nontraditional properties."
Although no national grocers or retailers have invested in the concept, Schwartz said she expects to see a well-known bookstore and a home decorating shop open for business there.
The market is expected to act as a catalyst to attract other enterprises and more customers.
The market should open in the next four or five months, city officials said.
Although developers met a handful of times with residents in recent months, the president of the Belvedere Improvement Association said she had not seen the latest plans.
"They haven't shared anything with the community," Catharine Evans said yesterday.
`Ready to be delighted'
Nonetheless, she said, "We are ready to be delighted by positive movement."
The new scheme dovetails with the plans of the Senator Theatre's owner for building a long-planned companion piece to his late-1930s theater: a new diner on York Road designed to evoke the 1940s.
Tom Kiefaber, owner of the Senator, said he would name it the Nibble & Clink in honor of a restaurant that stood near the theater in the 1940s.
There's one hitch: He aims to build on a site, just south of the Senator, now occupied by a heavy, shrink-wrapped diner he has offered to the American Diner Museum in Providence, R.I. It's not clear when the museum might cart it off.
"This was never a lost cause," Kiefaber said of the years when the outlook looked bleak for the area. He said a plan to improve the neighborhood is "now becoming a consensus reality."
"We think we've got absolutely the right team" to help stabilize the area, said Linda Lo Cascio, senior development director overseeing the project for developers. "We plan to animate spaces with tables and chairs and make it a gathering place for pedestrians with great places to shop."