Charity, city try to solve standoff

`Superblock' dispute halts west-side plan

October 18, 2006|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Sun reporter

The city and the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation are in talks to resolve a standoff over the long-stalled "superblock," a six-block area critical to west-side redevelopment, a city official confirmed yesterday.

A deal would avert a court fight over the city's planned condemnation of property owned by one of its largest charitable foundations.

City Solicitor Ralph S. Tyler said he has been leading negotiations with the Baltimore nonprofit over its properties in the superblock and moving ahead with the project, viewed as a key link between Charles Center to the east and the University of Maryland complex to the west.

"We have been in discussions with the Weinberg Foundation, and we'll see where they end up. We're moving as quickly as we can to get it resolved. We want to get moving on the superblock," Tyler said. He would not discuss the substance of the negotiations.

An agreement would end a bitter dispute, which erupted into public view in May, between the city and the wealthy and influential nonprofit that is a major benefactor in the area.

In July, the city took the first step toward condemnation, giving the foundation 30 days to accept its offer to buy the properties. The foundation owns more than half the land in the six-block area, which is bounded by Howard, West Clay, Liberty and West Fayette streets.

When the foundation rejected the city's offer in August, the city said it would file within a matter of months to seize the holdings through eminent domain.

Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development arm, selected New York developer Chera Feil Goldman Group last year to develop the 3.6-acre parcel with 225 apartments and 64,500 square feet in retail space. The group's exclusive negotiating privilege with the city to develop the project expires at year's end.

The developer did not return phone calls yesterday.

Shale Stiller, the Weinberg Foundation's president and chief executive, declined this week to comment on the status of the dispute with the city and could not be reached yesterday.

Rival proposal

In July, hoping to avert the city's threatened seizure of its properties, the nonprofit unveiled a proposal to work with Baltimore developer Cordish Co. to build a dense mix of housing, offices and shops totaling more than 2 million square feet.

The foundation had presented its plans to the board of the Downtown Partnership in an effort to persuade the BDC to rethink its choice of developer.

The city has not ruled out seizing the Weinberg property, Tyler said yesterday.

The city would halt plans to resort to eminent domain "only if we're able to resolve getting control of the site," he said. "In the end, the city will get control of the site and move forward with this important project."

Tyler said he expects to reach some resolution before the end of the year.

Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership, said yesterday that he thinks the two sides are moving closer to an agreement.

Possible terms

He said he has not seen terms of an agreement but thinks a resolution might include some combination of a sale of some of the Weinberg properties, a possible development role for the foundation and benchmarks for the redevelopment of certain properties.

The group has been pushing for an agreement that will allow redevelopment to start quickly.

In an e-mail response from Denver yesterday, BDC President M.J. "Jay" Brodie suggested that the city and the foundation have ground left to cover.

"We continue to talk and exchange drafts with the Weinberg Foundation but still have unresolved matters," Brodie said.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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