Downtown Partnership requests to expand to edge of Fells Point

Nonprofit asks legislature for wider taxing authority

February 11, 2003|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Downtown Baltimore has shifted to the east in recent years, and now a business advocacy group with special taxing power hopes to follow the growth, and the money, all the way to Fells Point.

The nonprofit Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc. wants state legislative authority to extend its domain to Inner Harbor East, the western edge of Fells Point and everything in between - but not close-knit Little Italy.

The new borders would mark the first expansion since the district, the Downtown Management Authority, was formed in 1992. It would mean greater power for the partnership, and increase its role as a supplemental provider of services in the city center.

In addition to paying city real estate taxes, property owners in the district pay a surcharge to cover the cost of public safety guides, cleaning crews, video monitors, landscaping and other services.

"We believe the property owners and tenants very much want to see it happen," said Michele Whelley, the partnership's president.

She said several of the 50 owners in the area approached her a year or so ago to see if the group's services could be provided. Among them was H&S Bakery owner John Paterakis Sr., who has large tracts of property in the area.

Even if the General Assembly gives its blessing to the legislation, the taxing district will not necessarily expand. City Council approval would be required, and 60 percent of property owners must agree to pay more for the services.

The new territory would be shaped like a fist, moving down President Street past the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel, pushing east along Fleet and Aliceanna streets and taking in some older industrial businesses such as Meyer Seed Co.

The southern edge would encompass the cleared AlliedSignal property, which Paterakis plans to develop with C. William Struever. The southeast corner would end at another Struever-Paterakis venture, Bond Street Wharf, now home to the headquarters of the RTKL architecture firm.

Whelley asked Little Italy community leaders if they wanted to be included, but they declined.

"Little Italy is a unique community in that we've always taken care of our own," said Mary Ann Cricchio, co-owner of Da Mimmo Restaurant and president of the Little Italy Restaurant Association.

Cricchio supports the expansion but said in her neighborhood "there really isn't a need. If there was some pressing need, believe you me, I would be the first one calling Miss Michele begging her to put it over here."

It does not make sense to pay for services you don't need, Cricchio said. Property owners in the existing 106-block district - roughly from Centre to Pratt streets, and from Greene to President streets - annually pay 13.8 cents per $100 of assessed property value. A property assessed at $1 million, therefore, would owe $1,380 a year.

Struever thinks the cost is worth it. "We think the Downtown Partnership is a good investment in creating a better neighborhood for everybody. One thing about the waterfront is it's the great meeting place of our region," he said.

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