A move in the right direction

March 30, 2007

The city's circuitous route to redeveloping the west side has taken yet another turn, but at least it's a road with promise.

The Dixon administration has managed to reach an equitable agreement with the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, a key stakeholder in the superblock's development, which should move the stalled project forward. The agreement turns on a land swap between the city and the foundation, an offer first made years ago by the O'Malley administration and then dumped for unexplained reasons. The resulting delays generated criticism of the city's plans and doubt as to the project's future.

But the new agreement with the Weinberg Foundation announced this week has the potential to chart a new course for a sizable portion of the derelict area. Last fall, there was no deal and the O'Malley administration was moving to condemn the Weinberg properties for redevelopment by a New York team. The foundation vowed to fight the condemnation in court.

The legal contest appeared formidable.

But with Sheila Dixon's elevation to mayor in January came a chance for a new start and renewed talks. Whether personalities or perseverance - or some combination - proved the difference matters less than the fact that the mayor, her staff and the Baltimore Development Corp. recognized that the way to end the stalemate was through negotiations. The project is critical to completing the revitalization of the west side.

In the swap, the Weinberg Foundation, along with the Cordish Co., will redevelop an area north of Lexington Street and adjacent to the old Stewart's building, which had been renovated by the foundation and will soon house Catholic Relief Services. The city will assemble the Weinberg properties for the Lexington Square Partners, which are due to present their long-awaited plan for the area south of Lexington Street today.

But, unfortunately, the wrangling over the superblock isn't yet done. Two other property owners have sued to keep from relocating, and the city needs to settle those disputes.

And then there is the curious case of Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos and developer David Hillman, who have sued the city over its selection of Lexington Square Partners to develop the area between Howard Street and Park Avenue, Fayette and Lexington streets, including the old bus terminal.

As Mayor Dixon rightly observed, it's time for the naysayers to step aside.

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