Interest high in Pigtown renewal

2 dilapidated blocks draw 8 proposals

April 11, 2006|By LORRAINE MIRABELLA | LORRAINE MIRABELLA,SUN REPORTER

Seven development teams are vying to revitalize two dilapidated blocks of Pigtown's main commercial district in Southwest Baltimore, signaling strong interest from developers and investors in the rebounding neighborhood.

The Baltimore Development Corp. said yesterday that it has received eight proposals, including two from one developer, to redevelop portions of the 700 and 900 blocks of Washington Blvd. for a mix of retail outlets and offices and either apartments or condominiums.

The two projects would represent one of the biggest commercial redevelopment projects in a neighborhood in transition, where home prices have been appreciating as new homes have been built and older ones rehabbed.

"We're hoping at a minimum to eliminate the blight influences that have existed for many years, but we're setting the bar higher and would like to see a mix of retail and residential or office," said Andrew B. Frank, executive vice president of the BDC, the city's development arm.

The city is moving to acquire the properties, including nine vacant buildings and one lot. The development agency plans to close on the first two properties in several weeks, Frank said. The BDC had issued requests for proposals in early February and plans to select developers within two to three months, Frank said.

Proposals for five properties from 925 to 937 Washington Blvd. seek to build street-level shops with either office space, apartments or condos on the upper floors.

Developers have similar plans for the rest of the properties in the 700 block, from 761 to 767 Washington Blvd., and around the corner at 760 Eislen St.

Several developers who submitted plans said they were drawn to the opportunities of a neighborhood increasingly seen as an affordable alternative to Canton or Federal Hill, one that's close to downtown, public transit and major highways.

Developers said they expect new housing to appeal to students, Washington commuters and people who have been priced out of other areas of the city. "We see a lot of promise there from the next 12 months to five years," said Kirsten Brecht, a managing partner for New City Partners of Baltimore.

"The key to neighborhood development is a combination of residential and commercial development," Brecht said.

New City's $2.2 million proposal for the 700 block of Washington Blvd. possibly includes a street-level restaurant and eight housing units (either for rent or for sale) on the upper floors. Brecht said the plan calls for gutting the interiors but preserving as much of the exteriors as possible.

Tristan O'Connell, the project leader for Historic Pigtown Development LLC, said his team's proposal for street-level shops, second-floor offices and second- and third-floor apartments could help stimulate additional development.

"We don't want to see Pigtown turn into Canton where people come in and bastardize the historic appeal of the community," said O'Connell, a tax credit consultant on historic properties. "This corner is an extremely important corner from an historic standpoint."

He said he and one of his partners already own two properties adjacent to the properties the city is seeking to acquire. Historic Pigtown Development's proposal would incorporate them into a project that would restore former storefronts with a 3,000-square-foot restaurant and additional retail outlets.

The project would also include artists' lofts atop art studio space, about 2,000 square feet of office space and seven apartments.

Rebecca Murphy Jones, development associate with Savannah Development, which has proposals for both blocks, said the projects fit with her company's philosophy of focusing on community development and revitalization.

Savannah's plans call for about 20,000 square feet of street-level shops or restaurants and about nine condo units in the 900 block of Washington Blvd. and a similar mix in the 700 block, with about 10 condos.

"Washington Village [Pigtown] is on the way up," she said. "it certainly is transitioning, but it is trending extremely positively. Property values are up. There's a lot more development there. It's been discovered."

Other bids for the 900 block came from Marc and Patrice Smith and Okoro Development Co.

For the 700 block, other bids came from Bmore Project LLC, led by John Cason, and French Development Co.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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