Builders to revamp block on west side

Development team to spend $15 million on Baltimore Street project

December 03, 2003|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

In a fresh sign of momentum on downtown's west side, a team of developers said yesterday that it would spend $15 million overhauling a key block of West Baltimore Street between the University of Maryland, Baltimore and the newly renovated Hippodrome Theatre.

And the developers say they don't plan to ask the city for a penny in tax breaks or other subsidies - a rare display of self-sufficiency that city officials hope becomes a trend.

Mayor Martin O'Malley is scheduled to announce the selection of the developers at 10:30 a.m. today at Eutaw and West Baltimore streets. The mayor will also reopen Eutaw Street, closed for construction since Aug. 11 between Baltimore and Fayette streets.

"This development is a sign of the continued progress taking place on the west side and will help to create a vibrant and livable downtown community," O'Malley said through a spokesman last night.

Developers and city officials view the 400 block of West Baltimore St. as a vital east-west bridge that can support premium new office space and an improved mix of retail at ground level.

To the west sits the burgeoning university and University of Maryland Medical System. Northeast is the Hippodrome, set to open in February with The Producers, and the $80 million Centerpoint project, with shops and restaurants, and nearly 400 apartments.

Building a link

"We think it's a key block to tie in the dynamic university-hospital complex with the whole west side renaissance at the Hippodrome," said Arthur Adler, a partner in the family-run David S. Brown Enterprises. "It's the link between those two parts of the city."

David S. Brown Enterprises has joined with A&R Development Corp. and Steve Samuelson, who owns a pawnshop and diamond business on the block. The group submitted the only response to the city's request for proposals, which excluded the Vault nightclub and a McDonald's restaurant.

The developers promise to keep most of the block's low-rise brick buildings, some of which date to the 1800s. Under a 1999 pact between O'Malley and preservationists, nearly every building on the block is deemed historically significant and therefore protected.

However, interior changes will be so major that the project's financing is not based on qualifying for state and federal preservation tax credits.

"We're going to save shells of the faM-gades, but from the back we're going to make this a Class A [office] building and take everything out," said Tony Rodgers, vice president for development at A&R.

The city's oversight of changes on the block is unusual in one respect: The city doesn't own the properties. What it possesses is City Council authorization to condemn them, and the city will hold a hammer over the head of owners who refuse to sell the 10 sites needed by the developers.

If the city must use its eminent-domain power, the developers would have to reimburse the city for all acquisition and relocation costs, said Sharon Grinnell, chief operating officer for the quasi-public Baltimore Development Corp.

`Private activity'

Grinnell said she was heartened that they have not asked for city money. It might be a sign of the future, she said.

"As we move forward and as the west side continues to build momentum, we're going to see a lot more private activity occurring without the city having to play a role," she said.

No office tenants have been signed. To satisfy parking needs, Rodgers said, the developers would consider leasing part of a nearby garage.

Of the existing retail tenants, some will stay and some will likely go. Samuelson's will remain, as will New Civic Carryout. People's Liquor will evolve from a discount liquor shop to more of a wine shop, Rodgers said. One tenant, Hippodrome Hatters, is expected to move to Centerpoint once it is completed.

Early phase

National chains would be sought, Rodgers said, as well as restaurants and cafes. He called the project "speculative" in that few tenants are signed and the financing is nonexistent. But, he said, "we feel confident based on our track record."

The developers have ties to the west side. Samuelson has been there since 1972. A&R owns the Redwood apartments on nearby Redwood Street and built the garage underneath. David S. Brown owns a building on Redwood.

The two real estate companies have teamed up before. They developed the Symphony Center parking garage and offices, and an apartment building is rising on the site adjacent to the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

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