Update: City grants third extension to “Superblock”

Hopkins and Brodie 20111221_1613

City Solicitor George Nilson listens to Johns Hopkins, executive director of Baltimore Heritage, at today’s Board of Estimates meeting. M.J. “Jay” Brodie looks on.

Photo by: Mark Reutter

(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.

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  • James Hunt

    The Brew wrote: 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.


    Yowza. Understatement of the year. Even buildings with tenants aren’t immune, as when Schenk’s on Baltimore Street — a beautiful building with a cast iron facade that once housed Mencken’s father’s cigar factory — collapsed several years ago. (The site is now the loading dock for the Hippodrome).

    Worst demo by neglect loss was the Peabody Book Shop and Beer Stube on Charles Street in Mt. Vernon, another site connected to Mencken but also one favored by the Colts and the Orioles after those teams came to town in the 50s.

  • westside_resident

    Two questions:

    Where were Witherspoon and these preservationists for the decades the buildings sat and rotted? The agreement the then Mayor O’Malley made with preservationists undercut this project from the beginning. The folks that sit on this board can can effectively kill off investment after investment with no skin in the game. If they want to save a four story building with a layout exactly as it was in the 1920s let them raise the money themselves. They will soon find out that businesses do not operated in the same fashion today as they did in the 20s and thus require modifications to the structures. (Please see Exhibit A on Baltimore St. near the Dunkin’ Donuts which is a beautifully restored building that has been sitting empty for 2 years.)
    Where do these folks that so badly want to protect city history live? I am sure as hell it is not on the Westside, because if they did they would be praying for development like this to pump some needed jobs and economic dynamism into the area. I am certain they wouldn’t like walking past vacant and crumbling storefronts year after year as we who live here have been forced to do.

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