There's a large pier on Baltimore's Canton waterfront that boasts picturesque views of the harbor and city skyline.
Zoned for commercial use, it's within easy walking distance of shops, restaurants, boat slips and upscale condominiums. Yet it has defied redevelopment even as the harbor front has changed around it.
Now this remnant of industrial waterfront - one of the last dormant stretches of Baltimore's redeveloped coastline - is coming up for auction Thursday.
"It's a fabulous piece of property - if you can figure out what to do with it," said Dan Billig, a partner of A. J. Billig & Co., the firm scheduled to sell the vacant property at 11 a.m.
Located off the 2300 block of Boston St., the concrete-and-asphalt pier is more than 50 years old and consists of about a third of an acre. Measuring 237 feet long and up to 124 feet wide, it was once used as a dock for oyster boats and other vessels.
The auction is a foreclosure sale on behalf of the Alvin Pomerantz Revocable Trust. The pier is owned by three investors who bought it three years ago but never did anything with it. According to Baltimore Circuit Court records, the investors are 2361-73 Boston Street LLC, JAB Ventures LLC and Alan Piscatelli.
Although the pier is near the heart of Canton, it hasn't been developed because there is no access for cars, and city officials never permitted construction on it.
For many years, it was part of the Anchorage townhouse community, in the 2300 block of Boston St. Louis Grasmick, a Baltimore businessman who headed the group that developed the townhouses nearly 30 years ago, said he thought it would be ideal for a tennis court, swimming pool or garden that could have been an amenity for residents, but he never got permission from the city.
Due to the lack of auto access, "I was denied, time and time again," Grasmick said. "I could not build anything."
Grasmick said he offered to sell the pier to the community association, but its leaders declined to buy it.
His group, Lougra Associates Limited Partnership, ultimately sold it in May 2006 to an investor who resold it in October 2006 to the present owners. The October 2006 purchase price was $350,000 plus settlement costs.
Piscatelli, one of the current owners, said he envisioned taking advantage of the parcel's commercial zoning to build a "low-density housing" development or single residence, but his group ran into community opposition and the downturn in the economy, which made financing difficult.
He still believes the property could be a terrific site for a residence with access by water.
David Benn, a local architect and board member of the Waterfront Partnership, believes the best use for the pier would be to make it part of the waterfront promenade and create a park similar to the one at Bond Street Wharf in Fells Point - "just a nice, simple green space."
Laurie Schwartz, executive director of the Waterfront Partnership, a nonprofit that helps manage and maintain portions of Baltimore's seven-mile waterfront promenade, said the partnership's reach does not include Canton.
Officials in Baltimore's budget-strapped government say they have not taken steps to acquire the pier because the public already has access to the water's edge off the 2300 block of Boston St. through the promenade.
The auctioneer has not disclosed a starting bid but is asking for a $20,000 deposit at the time of the sale. Billig said he thinks the pier might have potential as a miniature golf course or recreational fishing pier. He added that the lender is eager to find a buyer.
"It's a spectacular property," he said. "It's too valuable a site to sit fallow."