Condemning of west-side properties to go to court

Weinberg Foundation rejects purchase offer, city says

August 04, 2006|By MEREDITH COHN | MEREDITH COHN,SUN REPORTER

Baltimore will proceed with condemnation of key downtown properties owned by the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, a city official said yesterday.

City Solicitor Ralph S. Tyler said the foundation had rejected the city's formal offer to purchase its holdings, which account for about 60 percent of the six-block superblock area on downtown's west side, for an undisclosed amount. Tyler said condemnation is now the last resort, a tough line with a major foundation that has spent millions on charitable endeavors here.

"It means that while we've had further discussions, they've not resulted in any agreement, and we'll proceed to obtain authorization from the Board of Estimates to condemn the property," said Tyler of the city panel that hears budget requests. "That will happen in the fairly near future."

Tyler said it would be a matter of months until the city files with the court to take the Weinberg property through eminent domain.

Shale Stiller, president and chief executive of the foundation, said yesterday that he was just back from a trip out of the country and had not seen the letter sent by a foundation lawyer to the city rejecting its offer. He had no comment on the offer or the state of negotiations. The lawyer, Stanley Fine, was on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

City officials hope a "quick take" condemnation - a decision made last month by Mayor Martin O'Malley - will end a long standoff over the properties that erupted into public view in May, when the foundation said it intended to redevelop its properties on its own.

The city's development agency, the Baltimore Development Corp., had selected a New York group early last year to redevelop the major portion of the 3.6-acre superblock in the heart of the city's traditional retail district, including 12 of the Weinberg buildings.

City officials have said that Stiller did not think the city's offer for the foundation property, the higher of two independent appraisals, was high enough.

Two weeks ago, foundation officials said they wanted to avert the seizure and presented their own renewal project to the Downtown Partnership. Weinberg said it would join with the Cordish Co., a national developer based in Baltimore, to bring a denser collection of housing, offices and shops than the New Yorkers' plan.

It would preserve historic buildings and facades, and add up to a dozen buildings of up to 35 stories. There would be 890 apartments with street-level shops and restaurants and some office space.

The New York firm, Chera Feil Goldman Group, has proposed 225 apartments and less than half the retail space. It has until the end of the year to work out a final deal with the city. Chera officials have said previously that they would not proceed without the Weinberg properties.

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

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