City Oks Funds To Move 7 Shops

Oldtown Mall Area, Mostly Vacant, To Be Redeveloped For Mixed Use

August 27, 2009|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

The long-planned revitalization of the area surrounding Oldtown Mall in East Baltimore inched forward Wednesday, as city officials approved funds to help relocate merchants and make way for mixed-use development.

The Board of Estimates, the city's spending panel, approved more than $256,000 in moving expenses for seven small shops or businesses, among them a hair salon, a car wash and a tailor's shop, that occupy buildings the city has acquired.

The city has been buying up property around the mall south of Monument Street at Orleans and Ensor streets as part of a deal to turn over a 5-acre parcel to a development group led by Continental Realty Corp.

Continental and joint venture partners A&R Development Corp. and McCrary Development were awarded development rights in 2005 to rebuild 5 acres at the corner of Orleans and Ensor streets, next to the mall. The developers have been exploring building a mix of retail and mixed-income housing. Several grocers are interested in the site, said Gene Parker, Continental's chief operating officer.

City officials have hoped a new center would spark reinvestment and revitalization of the mostly vacant pedestrian mall in one of the city's oldest commercial districts. But plans to reinvent areas around the mall have fallen through in the past.

"The idea of a mixed-use project is still there for us - that's what we're pushing," said Will Beckford, managing director of commercial revitalization for the Baltimore Development Corp.

The city is continuing to assemble properties before selling the parcel to the developer. Continental has in the meantime purchased an adjacent parcel, the 5-acre site of the garden-style Forrest Street Apartments, which Continental is managing. Some of that property could be incorporated into a new development, Parker said.

Private owners control most of the mall's historic district along North Gay Street, which will not be part of the redevelopment but which has deteriorated over the years. City officials are exploring the possibility of reopening Gay Street to traffic.

Plans have moved slowly because of the recession and as the city considers new planning guidelines for the area, which will be adopted as part of a new Oldtown master plan.

"In the short run, the economy has been a challenge, but we're also working with the Department of Planning on an Oldtown redevelopment plan ... that will guide development in that area," Parker said. "We want to focus on taking time to make sure we think through what the redevelopment should look like."

In the meantime, the developer continues having discussions with retailers, he said.

The Board of Estimates approved relocation expenses Wednesday for tenants including Flair Hair Salon and Boutique, Leo's Car Wash, Model Clothes Co., Oldtown Tailors One and Virgo II.

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