Move on

November 10, 2006

The Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Foundation had its chance - once again - to participate in the last segment of the redevelopment of Baltimore's west side. Its stake in the project was obvious - the foundation owns the largest number of properties in the proposed six-block development site. The foundation asked for too much; the city should proceed with condemnation.

The O'Malley administration made a determined effort to bring the Weinberg Foundation into the project. But it's time to move on. The development should not be held hostage to the foundation's demands - it's too important a piece in the restoration of the west side. A sense of vibrancy is evident in the area; it shouldn't be compromised.

The city took the controversial step of condemning the Weinberg properties in late June after much foot-dragging by the foundation. The foundation had development rights to the 3.6-acre site, but it failed to participate in a city request for proposals in 2003.

The Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development arm, then chose a New York development group to handle the project, which required the city to gain control of all the superblock properties. When the leadership of the foundation changed, the new director expressed interest again in redeveloping the superblock properties - on its own. But the city decided to move for control of the Weinberg properties through condemnation.

At the time, we encouraged the foundation and the city to try to work out a joint development deal to avert a costly court battle. But the negotiations fell apart over the foundation's demands on the use of arbitrators to settle differences. The project's future has been further complicated by a Court of Appeals ruling favoring nine property owners and small businesses that challenged the city's 2004 selection of the New York group in a closed-door meeting. The court has returned the case to a lower court for further action.

The Weinberg directors may be hoping that a better deal for them emerges from that court action. But unless the court reopens the entire development process, the city is determined, and rightly so, to move ahead with condemnation.

The Weinberg directors had their chance to negotiate an equitable deal, but wanted more than the city should reasonably have had to give.

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