What gives?

March 15, 2006

The Hippodrome Theatre's coming season can't be beat for showstoppers. Its playbill, featuring the best Broadway play and musical of 2005, reminds us how enticing this part of town is becoming. There's the theater, playing to impressive audiences. A big new Starbucks at the corner, 88 percent occupancy at the Centerpoint complex, a hip new Irish restaurant nearby, the renovation of the historic Abell building under way. Now if only the 400 block of W. Baltimore St. would clean up its act.

The block remains a jumble of construction fencing, shuttered structures and a few businesses. Two years ago, Mayor Martin O'Malley and the city announced a development team for the block, promoting its planned $15 million overhaul as a "key" component of the west side's march toward "a vibrant and livable downtown community." The project promised to be a bargain for the city. The developers - David S. Brown Enterprises, A&R Development Corp. and local businessman Steve Samuelson - weren't going to ask for a dime in tax breaks to revitalize the area and preserve the historic properties.

So much for the buildup.

Back in 2003, Arthur Adler of Brown Enterprises rightly pegged the 400 block of W. Baltimore St. as a vital link between the expanding Maryland medical and law school campuses and the evolving revival to the east. That's even more true today.

It's time for the city to call the question. Can this development team change the face of this tawdry block? If it can't, Baltimore economic development officials should re- offer the block for development. It's showtime, folks.

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