A long-vacant basement coffee shop near Mount Vernon's Washington Monument could become a 7-Eleven convenience store over the objections of community activists, who are enlisting city support to buy the spot as a tourist information center.
The former Buttery restaurant, at the southeast corner of Charles and Centre streets, faces the Washington Monument, Walters Art Museum and Peabody Institute. Negotiations are under way with its owner and a convenience store operator to open a 24-hour-a-day retail operation, which under zoning rules is a permitted use.
"I'd rather have a 7-Eleven in my own backyard than on Mount Vernon Place," said R. Paul Warren, a Park Avenue resident who is vice president of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Improvement Association. "Baltimore has no other places that can compare to the Mount Vernon squares."
Warren's position caught the site's owner, Gregory N. Friedman, off guard. Friedman is a commercial real estate broker-investor and co-owner of AGM Commercial Real Estate.
"I bought this retail condominium, and I'd like to find a user who can occupy the space and benefit the community," Friedman said. "The community had ample time to purchase the property and had never expressed any interest until very recently."
He said he would not comment on negotiations, but he added that he had "tried unsuccessfully to find a restaurant or other local user."
The store's anticipated presence on the square, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, comes as Mayor Sheila Dixon is scheduled to announce today the creation of the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy, described as "a public-private partnership for the restoration and future management" of the landmark setting.
With a goal of $10 million in fundraising, the conservancy would oversee upkeep of the four square parks and the central monument, and deal with landscaping, sidewalks, street lighting, irrigation and electrical issues.
"While the Mount Vernon Association has a responsibility to protect the appearance of the neighborhood, I do not think it represents the views of the entire community regarding the suitability of this site for a convenience store," said Friedman, who paid $310,000 for the two commercial condominiums and paid other expenses for fitting out the space for long-term leases.
Warren said his group has financial commitments of $202,000 to date, mainly from city agencies and several anonymous donors.