Mayor announces $16 million plan for revitalizing Belvedere Square

City, state to contribute $4 million for project

April 10, 2002|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Standing before a crush of neighbors and city officials, Mayor Martin O'Malley formally announced yesterday that the city and state will contribute $4 million to the $16 million package that four Baltimore development firms estimate is needed to bring back some of the "old magic" to Belvedere Square.

The decline of the once-thriving shopping center in North Baltimore will be arrested and reversed, the mayor said, by a partnership comprising Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, Manekin Corp., Hawkins Development Group and a new entrant, Williams Jackson Ewing.

Noting during a morning news conference at the square that he had heard many "impassioned memoirs" concerning the shopping center when it was bustling in the early 1990s, O'Malley said, "I don't think a day went by, as mayor or a City Council member, without someone asking me about Belvedere Square."

The development team plans to purchase the 100,000-square- foot complex, which opened in 1986, from James J. Ward III for $7 million to $8 million, people close to the deal said.

Loyola College will be the first to move into the mixed-use project in the fall, said the Rev. Harold Ridley, the college president.

An upscale, 13,000-square-foot open-air market also is likely open in the fall, the first step toward luring retailers and restaurateurs to the largely vacant complex, said Jamie Lanham of Struever Bros.

Lanham said the plan is for full occupancy by next spring.

The convergence of four Baltimore-based development firms with national reputations was sparked by a sense of urgency because the York Road corridor, including the York Road-Belvedere Avenue intersection near the landmark Senator Theatre, is considered a make-or-break economic anchor for Northeast Baltimore.

"It was for God, country and Baltimore, trust me when I tell you," said Anthony Hawkins, a principal.

"It's far too important a symbol for the entire city to let go," said C. William Struever, also a principal.

Williams Jackson Ewing, which recently designed the renovation of Grand Central Station in New York City, aims to revive and update its original design for Belvedere Square with streetscape improvements to encourage walkers.

"Our concept was perfect, but it wasn't managed aggressively, and it needs to be choreographed to achieve a critical mass," said Lehr Jackson, a partner.

Yesterday's fanfare, coming after years of worry about the languishing square, evoked a place where neighbors cross paths in "delightful places to get together," said Richard Alter of Manekin.

The $4 million subsidy persuaded the team to go forward. "This public investment allows us to do it right," said Linda T. Lo Cascio, senior development director for the project.

The upbeat outdoor news conference was attended by more than 100 people, including members of the mayor's Cabinet, elected officials and residents from Cedarcroft, Govans and other neighborhoods.

One of the few merchants still operating at the square, Greg Novik of Greg's Bagels, was introduced by O'Malley as "the virtual mayor of Belvedere Square."

Novik responded, "Now I'll have to vote for you, whatever office you run for," drawing a laugh. O'Malley has been widely mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate.

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