Angelos' money, influence back vision for city

Downtown investment helps win politicians' ears

May 14, 2002|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

But for Peter G. Angelos, a new city high school might well open its doors this fall at Charles Plaza in downtown Baltimore. Mayor Martin O'Malley admits as much.

The mayor said he personally did not object to the location at Charles and Saratoga streets, yet he urged schools chief Carmen V. Russo to look for a different downtown site.

Why? Because Angelos, who owns four office buildings along Charles Street, told him that a school - and its several hundred students - did not belong in the core business district.

"He made it very clear how adamant he was," said O'Malley, who worried that the school system would get mired in a bruising legal fight.

Angelos won. School officials junked plans for Charles Plaza and last week were searching for a new home for the school.

As the school episode shows, Angelos is a prominent player in the downtown scene, investing tens of millions of dollars and helping promote the Charles Street corridor and the west side.

Which helps explain why Angelos, 72, can get O'Malley's ear on development matters and why he is not shy about offering his views on issues he deems important.

"I hope people will understand I don't do it in a demanding way," the gravel-voiced Angelos said in an interview Thursday. He described himself as "a citizen of the city who is concerned and interested that the city be revitalized."

He acknowledged, though, that his name means he does not have to leave a message when he calls City Hall: "It certainly helps you to get through."

Angelos - Orioles owner, super-wealthy lawyer, major Democratic Party donor - does not always get his way. In 1997 he failed in his quest to build a convention hotel, and he was unable to turn Center Plaza into a temporary parking lot - something he now says would have been a mistake.

But the high school is not the only proposal he has successfully fought. For example, in the 1990s he kept a mammoth chiller plant from going up on the site of the old Hamburger's department store.

Last year he joined the battle against a proposed bus station next to Pennsylvania Station after Greyhound Lines chief executive Craig R. Lentzsch could not convince him in a meeting that it made sense. Angelos, like others, turned to O'Malley, who reversed course and vetoed it.

Angelos "clearly gets more access than the average person," said David F. Tufaro, a developer who ran as a Republican against O'Malley in 1999. "But I think he expresses views that a lot of people share."

Robert C. Embry Jr., Abell Foundation president and former city housing commissioner, said: "He cares about downtown. He's not a detached person living up in the woods someplace counting his money. As far I know, none of it enriches him; it's to carry out what he thinks is good for the city."

O'Malley, a Democrat who received a $2,500 contribution from Angelos last fall, said they speak "from time to time" but, "He doesn't call me every day. He's never been a pest."

"He's a very important person in the life of the city," the mayor said, "and a very important leader in the redevelopment of our downtown."

In six years, Angelos has spent more than $25 million to buy or develop key downtown real estate, and he is investing close to $15 million to renovate his prize, One Charles Center.

In 1999 he was behind the creation of WestSide Renaissance Inc., a business group promoting downtown's west side. He made a six-figure pledge to its operations. Last year he had a hand in forming the nonprofit Charles Street Development Corp. to try to revive Charles Street from Pratt Street to North Avenue.

Yet Angelos almost left downtown. In the mid 1990s he considered moving his high-powered law firm from Lombard Street to Towson, where he owns a building.

While he was being urged to stay, he learned that One Charles Center was for sale. The 23-story tower, built in 1962, gained national attention as the first office building in the Charles Center renewal area. Famed architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe designed it.

By 1996, it was available for just $6 million, so he grabbed it. Since then he has bought the elegant Fidelity and Deposit building next door for $3 million, and nearby One Center Plaza on Fayette Street for $9.5 million.

Angelos also helped keep a neighbor in the area. When the Johns Hopkins University thought about moving its downtown center from Charles Street, Angelos bought land at Charles and Fayette for $1.5 million, then put $5.5 million toward classroom space.

The One Charles Center renovations should be finished this fall, he said. New tenants on the ground floor will include Starbucks coffee and possibly Maison Marconi restaurant, a west-side institution he owns. Angelos thought about putting Marconi's in the F&D building, but said a national company that he won't name wants to put upscale housing there.

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