(12/21 UPDATE: The Board of Estimates gave the developers of “Superblock” another four months to complete their financing and search for tenants, despite a protest by preservationists and an outburst from the floor by Rev. C.D. Witherspoon, president of the Baltimore chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
(Johns Hopkins, executive director of Baltimore Heritage, said the “Superblock” developers were not honoring an agreement on historic preservation, while Witherspoon objected to a commemoration being planned to honor a 1955 civil rights sit-in at the former Read’s Drug Store The board did not respond directly to either matter, but approved the extension after M.J. “Jay” Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., said the long-stalled project was making headway.)
The Board of Estimates is scheduled to grant a third extension to the developers of the controversial Superblock project on Baltimore’s Westside.
The action to extend a 2007 land disposition agreement from the end of December to April 30, 2012 was placed on the board’s agenda for its Wednesday meeting.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake strongly supports the project and its development team, an Atlanta developer and four wealthy New York families known collectively as Lexington Square Partners LLC.
City officials insist that the project has been stalled because of “frivolous lawsuits,” in the words of M.J. “Jay” Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp. (BDC), which formally asked for the extension.
Last week Brodie denounced a lawsuit from 120 West Fayette Street LLLP, an entity controlled by Baltimore Orioles owners Peter G. Angelos, at a meeting of the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP).
A state circuit court judge has dismissed the Angelos suit as not having legal standing. The dismissal was appealed to the Maryland Court of Appeals and a hearing is scheduled before the court on January 6.
Retail Leases Yet to be Signed
As part of CHAP’s agreement last May to allow the project to move forward, Lexington Partners had promised to prepare architectural plans and secure letters of intent from prospective tenants for the $150-million mixed-use project centered at Howard and Lexington streets.
Last week, a representative of developers, Bailey Pope, told CHAP that “we are actively engaged in discussions with prospective tenants,” but were not at the point to announce the names of specific retail operators.
He added that it would be “imprudent” for the developers to work on detailed designs when the project was still subject to the Angelos lawsuit and an uncertain mix of tenants.
No Word on Read’s Commemoration
One controversial aspect of the development – which the city has been trying to get underway for a decade – is the partial restoration of the former Read’s Drug Store, site of a 1955 civil rights sit-in.
Mayor Rawlings-Blake appointed a special panel to recommend ways to commemorate the sit-in, considered a major event in the national civil rights movement.
The panel, headed by Morgan State University Professor Michelle Bondima, submitted its recommendations to the mayor last Tuesday, the CHAP meeting was told.
Ryan O’Doherty, the mayor’s spokesman, said last week he had not seen the recommendations and did not know when they would be publicly released.
Separately, the city said it would proceed with installing a temporary roof on the Read’s building, whose interior timber framing has partially collapsed from years of water leakage.
The roof, however, is not expected to be installed until late spring or early summer, leading CHAP commissioner Larry Gibson to wonder whether the building itself might fall down. “Demolition by neglect is a specialty in this city,” he said.
An engineering consultant said that was unlikely because the steel beams and exterior masonry walls appeared to be in satisfactory condition. The temporary roof on the city-owned building would cost about $550,000.