Developer picked for work at Chesapeake

Restaurant owner says he'll fight Charles North plan

September 13, 2005|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

The long-vacant Chesapeake Restaurant, at the gateway to the city's Charles North arts and entertainment district, is slated to be transformed into the cornerstone of a new community of condos, townhouses, shops and offices, city development officials said yesterday.

Baltimore Development Corp. yesterday chose Station North Development Partners LLC to build the estimated $40 million to $50 million Chesapeake Square even though the property's owner, who has been fighting the city's attempts to buy or force him out, says he has agreed to sell the former restaurant to another developer.

"It seemed a very viable proposal, and it will make a significant difference to the area," Paul Dombrowski, director of planning and design for the BDC, said of Station North's plan. "It really does take advantage of the transit-oriented potential there."

But the huge project - the largest ever for the neighborhood - hinges on the city seizing through eminent domain the former Chesapeake building on North Charles Street as well as two vacant rowhouses on East Lanvale Street owned by attorney Robert Sapero. Dombrowski said yesterday that Sapero has not responded to two city offers, and that the city is preparing paperwork to condemn the buildings.

Sapero indicated yesterday that he is not about to let that happen. He said he has a pending contract to sell the building and expects to close on the deal by the end of the year.

"The city is carrying on activities that are totally inappropriate," Sapero said.

M.J. "Jay" Brodie, BDC president, who has said the city has been waiting for Sapero to find a buyer over the past 15 years, said the city is moving ahead.

"We've heard things from Mr. Sapero in the past - that's why we went to the City Council and asked for eminent domain and that's what we're pursuing," Brodie said.

BDC said it chose the proposal by Station North over two other proposals because of its mix of uses clustered around Penn Station, its solid financial backing and strong community support.

The developers hope to complete construction within two years. The team includes Tower Hill Development & Consulting LLC; Michael and Alan Shecter, the owners of buildings on the same block that house the Charles Theatre and The Everyman Theater; Florida-based developer The Miller Group and Stephen A. Masciola.

The team plans to renovate the Chesapeake with shops, restaurants and an art gallery on the ground floor and five subsidized artists' lofts on the upper floors. The developers envision a 13-story, 91-unit condominium tower behind the former restaurant with street-level retail and second-floor office space. And on property owned by the Shecter family, including a parking lot included in the BDC's redevelopment area, the team would build 11 townhouses, selling for an estimated $375,000 and up, on top of a four-story, 190-space parking garage along the alley east of Charles Street.

"We believe the scale of our project is vitally important to the success in that we can create a larger, safer, more dynamic 24-hour community that will have retail, office and residential, which will keep activity at all hours of the day," said Chris Regan, a principal with Tower Hill Development.

It was unclear whether Everyman Theater would remain in its home of 11 years, which it has said it has outgrown. The theater had proposed renovating the Chesapeake as a lobby and concession area, with classrooms above, and building a 250-seat performing arts theater. The theater's artistic director, Vincent Lancisi, could not be reached yesterday.

Both BDC officials and the Station North developers said they hoped the theater would stay put or at least remain in the neighborhood. Brodie said he met last week with theater representatives about finding a solution to the space crunch.

"We hope and expect that they will continue to thrive on the block," Regan said. "They're a very important part of the community and have built homes for themselves there. Everyone has some constraints they're trying to work through."

A third proposal to the BDC, from a team led by the operator of the Charles, would have allowed the Tapas Teatro restaurant next to the movie theater to expand.

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