2nd superblock tract offered

City seeks proposals for land it held back in 2003

April 05, 2007|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Sun reporter

After reaching agreements with two developers of the long-stalled superblock project on Baltimore's west side, the city said yesterday that it is offering an additional superblock parcel, now parking lots and vacant buildings, for redevelopment in hopes of continuing momentum in revitalizing the deteriorated stretch of downtown.

Baltimore Development Corp. is seeking proposals to redevelop eight parcels in a block bounded by Park Avenue and Clay, Liberty and Lexington streets.

The development site does not include a row of stores along Lexington, which will remain intact or be refurbished by new or current merchants, the BDC said.

The BDC had offered the same site as part of its 2003 request for proposals for the entire superblock project in the heart of the city's old retail district. But the city never awarded the site for redevelopment because it failed to draw strong-enough proposals, M.J. "Jay" Brodie, BDC president, said yesterday. The city at that time awarded the bulk of the superblock project to a team now called Lexington Square Partners LLC, headed by Chera Feil Goldman Group of New York.

Plans for 400 to 500 market-rate apartments, 200,000 square feet of retail space and parking stalled as the city hit snags in acquiring the property, in part because of a dispute over properties owned by the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, one of the biggest landowners in the redevelopment area, viewed as critical to revitalization of the west side.

In January, the city's Board of Estimates agreed to sell 37 properties to Lexington Square for $21.6 million. And last week, city, Weinberg Foundation and Lexington Square officials agreed to a land swap to resolve the land dispute and enable the foundation and Baltimore-based developer Cordish Co. to proceed with redeveloping a block on the north side of Lexington Street.

Lexington Square submitted preliminary plans last week to the BDC that eventually will be publicly shown and forwarded to the city's design panel.

"All of those are pieces that hopefully make the time right to put out for a second time this offering of city-owned properties," acquired in 2000 and 2001, Brodie said. "This is another step forward."

The city has been trying to spur private investment on the west side in a mix of redevelopment uses to bring in residents, shoppers and businesses.

The Liberty/Clay site could be redeveloped with housing above a garage with some ground-floor retail, for example, Brodie said.

Developers have the option of either retaining or razing the three vacant buildings on a site made up mostly of parking lots leased by Central Parking System of Maryland.

The superblock's access to public transit and to downtown's central business district makes it a key project in the west side's renewal, said Ronald M. Kreitner, executive director of Westside Renaissance Inc.

"This area of the superblock is as important to get under way as other portions of the superblock," he said

"It's critical that the whole superblock move forward," Kreitner explained. "The rationale from day one was the greatest public benefit will come from redevelopment and reinvestment in that entire area."

Brodie said developers have already expressed interest, which is not surprising given recent movement in superblock plans and projects in progress, such as developer David Hillman's conversion of the former BGE tower into apartments.

Other major projects on the west side have included restoration of the historic Hippodrome Theatre; Centerpoint, a square-block project with new and restored apartments and retail; Camden Court Apartments, a 221-unit market-rate building; and The Atrium at Market Center, apartments converted from the former Hecht's department store.

"The basic thrust of the west side has been an urban neighborhood with a lot of housing and more quality retail," Brodie said. "But if folks have other ideas, they should feel free to tell us what they might be."

Developers' proposals are due to the BDC by Aug. 1.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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