Progress at last

November 12, 2007

It was often portrayed as a David vs. Goliath standoff in which small businesses were denied participation in the development of the west side. But in the end, the right dollar amount persuaded two holdouts to drop their legal claims against the city of Baltimore.

The respective settlements are a compromise - aren't they all? - but they're worth it to move this critical project forward.

Now it's up to the developers to deliver on their respective proposals in transforming the area known as the "superblock" to complete the revitalization of the city's west side, which was first proposed in 1999.

The city settled with Carmel Realty for about $2.7 million and that ended its lawsuit, but more important, the firm agreed to give up its right to develop a North Howard Street property that the city will buy and then sell to a New York-Atlanta development team to complete its part of the superblock project.

In a second settlement, the city reached agreement with the Korean owners of a clothing business to buy their store and warehouse at Lexington Street and Park Avenue for $3.75 million, buildings that must be conveyed to the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, which, along with the Cordish Co., are the other big players in the superblock revitalization.

It's been a long road to get here.

Credit goes first to Mayor Sheila Dixon. When she moved into the mayor's office this year, Ms. Dixon recognized the need to jump-start this project, which had been mired in disputes and stalled by several changes in city policy. She helped push city officials to reach an agreement with the Weinberg Foundation so it could play a leading role in the project, even though city officials were already working with Lexington Square Partners, the New York-Atlanta development team whose piece of the project involves 37 properties bounded by Howard, West Lexington, Liberty and West Fayette streets.

Baltimore Circuit Judge W. Michel Pierson's strong suggestion that a mediator help the sides work out their differences also proved fortuitous in finalizing the Carmel deal.

A challenge does remain from companies controlled by Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos and developer David Hillman. But we hope they will see the benefit of moving this project along and reach an accommodation with the city.

The transformation of the west side is already under way with such successes as the new Hippodrome Theatre, the revitalized Stewart's department store - now home to Catholic Relief Services - and other projects in that vital corridor.

Concluding these settlements goes a long way toward hastening its eventual revitalization.

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