City Panel To Consider West-side Property Deal

November 18, 2009|By Julie Scharper | Julie Scharper,julie.scharper@baltsun.com

Baltimore's powerful spending panel is expected to rule Wednesday on a $15 million property swap that is key to a plan to transform Baltimore's old shopping hub into a bustling mix of apartments, offices and stores.

The deal is a crucial step in the long-stalled "superblock" project, intended to revitalize a blighted stretch of the west side through two developments - one led by the Baltimore Development Corp. in conjunction with Lexington Square Partners, the other by the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation and the Cordish Cos.

The Board of Estimates, which approved the deal in principle in 2007, will review the transaction at its Wednesday meeting. Mayor Sheila Dixon, a voting member of the board, will be represented by a substitute; Dixon's trial on charges that she stole gift cards intended for needy families is continuing.

Under the development agreement, the city would trade four properties, worth $2.7 million, including the old Stewart's department store, for nine properties valued at $11.7 million, including the former Howard Furniture Store. The city would also pay the foundation $8.9 million for the difference in value between the two parcels, $2.1 million for lost rent and $1.3 million in interest.

Among the properties the city would acquire is the old Brager-Gutman department store at West Lexington Street and Park Avenue, which developers plan to convert into a boutique hotel.

"We knew all along that the foundation's properties were more numerous than ours and would also be more costly," said BDC President M.J. "Jay" Brodie.

The project still must clear legal hurdles before construction can begin, Brodie said.

The Maryland Historical Trust has expressed concerns about some of the buildings involved in the project, and a lawsuit contesting the process by which the BDC chose Lexington Square Partners in a 2004 closed meeting is to be heard next month by the Maryland Court of Appeals.

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