Renewal proposed in Rosemont

May 29, 2008|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,Sun reporter

Rosemont residents have long lobbied the city to inject new life into a West Baltimore warehouse that's stood mostly vacant since a supermarket company pulled out years ago. Now that hoped-for revitalization appears to be on the way.

The Baltimore Development Corp. said yesterday that it has found a company to redevelop the site. Himmelrich Associates Inc., a city real estate company best known for transforming the old Montgomery Ward catalog house and department store in Southwest Baltimore into upscale offices, is proposing a $22 million "community hub" with senior housing, offices, light manufacturing space and retail.

The BDC, the city's economic development arm, said Himmelrich would buy the site for $1, a deal that is subject to approval by the Board of Estimates. The company was the only one to respond to a request for proposals, the city said. The BDC said it was its third attempt to attract interest in the site.

"We really look forward to its being full of vibrant uses and people, which it hasn't been for a very, very long time," said M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the BDC. "In a neighborhood that is basically solid but has this blighting situation, it's a very big deal. ... This is the kind of project that Himmelrich has taken on very successfully."

The site, known as the Acme Business Center, sits at Lafayette Avenue and Bentalou Street. Redevelopment work will encompass 2 to 2 1/2 acres and three buildings but will not include land that Emanuel Tire Co. is renting from the city for its exporting business. Himmelrich intends to convert the main warehouse, once used by the Acme supermarket company, rather than demolish it.

"We're excited about the opportunity to turn this derelict, vacant building back into an asset," said R.J. Lehman III, director of development for Himmelrich, which has done conversions of city mills as well as the Montgomery Ward building.

He said it's too early in the planning process to speak about timing and the exact mix of uses. The company's preliminary proposal calls for 80 units of senior housing, about 90,000 square feet of office and flex space, about 38,000 square feet of retail space and 110 parking spaces, the BDC said.

Norman Emanuel, owner of the Baltimore tire company next door, said he wishes the city had given him a heads-up. He wanted to expand his operation into the space slated for redevelopment.

"I don't have any say over that," said Emanuel, who has rented the land north of the redevelopment area since 1984, long before the city bought it. "But I should have had an opportunity."

A community leader was pleased by the news. Robert Hunt, president of the Alliance of Rosemont Community Organizations, an umbrella group of 25 neighborhood associations, said it has been "an ongoing battle" to get redevelopment kick-started in the area and at Acme in particular.

"We need help for this area," Hunt said. "Once this is started and people see that it is a good area to invest in, I'm sure that there would be other developers knocking on the door."

jamie.smith.hopkins@baltsun.com

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