Lowe's, Grocery Planned For Lower Charles Village Site

November 19, 2009|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

Baltimore's first Lowe's home improvement store and a supermarket would anchor a $65 million mixed-use project straddling Charles Village and Remington under a retail developer's plans to transform the site of Anderson Automotive, a fixture since the mid-1950s.

Developer Rick Walker unveiled plans Wednesday to build the home improvement store and a grocer, along with 32,000 square feet of specialty shops and up to 60 apartments on 11 acres roughly bounded by 25th Street to the north, Maryland Avenue to the east, 24th Street to the south and the CSX rail line to the west.

Walker, chief executive of Walker Developments Inc., said he has a commitment from Lowe's and interest from lenders to finance the project, which he said would start next fall and open in 2011. He has a contract to buy about 8 acres of the development site from the owner of Anderson Automotive, one of the 1,100 dealerships whose franchises won't be renewed next year by General Motors Co. as part of the automaker's bankruptcy.

"The cities and the urban focus is going to come back," Walker said.

The developer, who said he has built 10 million square feet of retail projects in eight cities, would be a partner in W.V. Urban Developments LLC with Baltimore native Lawrence Cager. The team had met with City Council members to discuss the plans but presented them for the first time publicly Wednesday to community association leaders.

"The Howard Street corridor [especially between North Avenue and 25th Street] has long been a dumping ground for car-oriented and related uses that pretty much preclude any other kind of investment there," said Chris Merriam, vice president of the Greater Remington Improvement Association. "The buildings are ugly, and the employees work 9-5 and then go home. Howard Street is a ghost town after 5 p.m. I know a lot of people are very ready to see that change."

The project would generate an estimated 800 full-time and part-time retail jobs and 400 construction jobs, the developers said.

The developers are in talks with several national grocery chains and have letters of interest from retailers such as Staples, A.J. Wright and Anna's Linens, which is similar to Bed, Bath and Beyond.

"This is the type of mix we're anticipating," Walker said.

Kann Partners showed concept plans describing a two-story complex with a 60,000-square-foot grocer on top of a 94,000-square-foot Lowe's. It would connect on several levels to a parking deck on the west side of Howard Street between 25th and 24th streets. Lowe's and the grocery retailer would own their stores, and W.V. would own the rest.

Other new construction would include a four-story building along Maryland Avenue with street-level shops and three floors of apartments and a one-story building along 24th Street for another big-box retailer.

Anderson's two existing auto showrooms would be recycled for new tenants.

Anderson has long been a landmark on the western edge of Charles Village. The dealership was started by owner Bruce Mortimer's father in 1955.

The property sits along Howard Street north of several blocks of auto parts shops, body shops, tire shops and other auto-related businesses.

The project also would spill into commercial portions of Remington, an adjacent neighborhood of modest two- and three-story rowhouses near exit ramps for Interstate 83.

The project "may turn out to be somewhat of an island," Joan Floyd, president of the Remington Neighborhood Alliance, said Wednesday before seeing the plans.

Now, no large blocks of retail exist in Remington, and residents there typically shop in nearby Hampden, where there are two supermarkets, or in Charles Village's commercial district to the east.

"Remington has certainly never been any kind of retail hub," Floyd said. "I think people do have an interest in having some retail, but also I think people are looking at having some jobs. This is a neighborhood where people used to be able to live here and work nearby and not have a car and walk or take the bus," she said.

Just north of the dealership on 25th Street between Howard Street and Maryland Avenue, small businesses fill a block of rowhouses, including two restaurants, a tailor/cleaners, apparel and variety shops and hair salons. Several of the business owners said they had not heard of Anderson's demise and would be sorry to see the longtime landmark go.

Elroy Baker said he always tells customers looking for his Sol Sports clothing store to just look for Anderson.

But redevelopment would be good for the neighborhood, he said.

"It would boost it up a little more," he said. "More people are going to come around."

In another narrow rowhouse, Booda Monk sat in the tattoo shop he has run for the past two years, sketching a phoenix design for a client.

"This is a pretty good, progressive neighborhood," said Monk, who said his clients come from outside the city. Adding new homes and shops "would improve the neighborhood. It would be a lot more to offer to the community and draw more people to the neighborhood."

Baltimore Sun reporter Edward Gunts contributed to this article.

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