A scaled-back revitalization plan for the "superblock," a crucial piece of Baltimore's west-side renewal effort, would include small- and medium-size stores, market-rate apartments in a 32-story tower and a 150-room boutique hotel.
Revised plans by developer Lexington Square Partners, shown yesterday to the board of the Baltimore Development Corp., would reduce the overall retail space and the number of apartments. It also adds the hotel.
Lexington Square, selected in competitive bidding by the city in early 2005, is now proposing 152,000 square feet of retail - half the original amount - 360 apartments and the hotel on land bounded by Fayette, Howard and Lexington streets and Park Avenue.
The new plan also includes a single tower that is double the height of the two, 14-story structures initially proposed. The single tower would be similar in size to the neighboring Centerpoint apartment complex.
Developers hope to finish the project by 2011.
The residential tower would rise along Fayette Street, with some apartments in buildings atop Lexington Street shops. The long-vacant Brager-Gutman's department store building at Lexington and Park would be restored and converted into a hotel.
BDC President M.J. "Jay" Brodie said the developer's original idea of attracting a "big box" retailer to lease up to 100,000 square feet was overly ambitious.
"This was a very aggressive program" that targeted bigger retailers than the medium-size ones suggested in an earlier city strategic plan, Brodie told the BDC board.
Lexington's original $250 million concept, unveiled in April 2007 at City Hall, included the two apartment towers and a mix of local and national retailers. It called for 400 one- and two-bedroom apartments and more than 300,000 square feet of retail space.
"The original plan was based on getting a big-box anchor ... and we just haven't found much market interest in that," said Bailey Pope, a vice president at developer Harold A. Dawson Co. Inc., a partner in Lexington Square with the Chera Feil Goldman Group of New York. "We do have some good interest in 'junior' box retail, and are still looking for national chains that will come in and do clothing or housewares."
Linda Frangioni, president of the Market Center Merchants Association, which represents 400 merchants in the shopping district around Lexington Market, said merchants who objected to the idea of a "big box" retailer are happier with the revised plans and hoping construction will start soon on the long-stalled project.
"It's our key to getting downtown back and revitalized," she said. "We need a different variety of businesses to accommodate all the residents moving in ... so they don't jump in their cars and run to the malls to get what they need."
But historic preservationists say the current plan fails to meet minium preservation requirements.
It "includes the demolition of far too many historic buildings that are important to the integrity of the Market Center Historic District," said J. Rodney Little, director of the Maryland Historical Trust.
The developer said it is reviewing whether additional buildings or facades along Lexington Street could be saved.
Lexington Square is one of several developers chosen by the city to revitalize the collection of blighted blocks around the Lexington Street pedestrian mall, the heart of the city's old retail district. Under terms of a land swap deal between the city and the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, the foundation was granted city-owned or acquired properties on the north side of Lexington Street between Howard Street and Park Avenue. In exchange, the foundation allowed its properties on the south side of Lexington to be included in the Lexington Square project.
A partnership of the foundation and Baltimore-based Cordish Co. plans at least 70,000 square feet of offices, apartments, shops and restaurants on the north side of Lexington.
"We are not scaling back," said David S. Cordish, Cordish Co. chairman in an e-mail. The start of construction of the Weinberg-led parcel is tied to the start of construction of Lexington Square, he said.
Both Pope and Brodie said the changes and lower projected cost of $150 million was unrelated to current Wall Street turmoil or a lack of financing.
The developers "believe even in these times they have the equity and borrowing relationship to make this happen," Brodie said.
lexington square project
Original plan, unveiled in April 2007
Apartments: 400 units in two 14-story towers
Shops: 300,000 square feet
Parking: 900 spaces
Scaled-back plan, presented yesterday to BDC board
Apartments: 360 units in one 32-story tower and smaller buildings
Shops: 152,000 square feet
Parking: 800 spaces