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The Dripby Fern Shen6:15 pmMar 4, 20150

Bicycle-themed HandleBar Cafe gets city support for $500,000 state loan

State program designed to strengthen neighborhood commercial districts

Above: Mockup of proposed HandleBar Cafe on Caroline Street, submitted to City Council last year.

The couple trying to open a bike-themed cafe in a former warehouse on Caroline Street got a boost from City Hall today, when the Board of Estimates unanimously approved a resolution supporting their efforts to get a $500,000 loan from the state of Maryland.

The HandleBar Cafe/Niki, Inc. is applying to the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development for funds through the agency’s “Neighborhood BusinessWorks Program (NBWP).

“The business will feature both a fully functional urban lifestyle bicycle shop and a full service restaurant with a liquor license and a coffee bar,” the spending board’s agenda says, describing the HandleBar as “the first bicycle shop/cafe business model in the state of Maryland.”

The estimated total cost of the project,  including acquiring the property at 511 S. Caroline Street in Fells Point, is $1,335,000, according to the agenda.

“The building is a vacant, 7,000-square-foot, two-story structure built in 1982,” the agenda notes. “The second floor of the building will be divided into office space and leased to like-minded businesses.”

The $500,00 would go toward construction, equipment, inventory, working capital and start-up costs, according to the agenda, which notes that “no city funds are requested.”

Zoning Change Battle

Proposed by champion mountain biker Marla Streb and her husband Mark Fitzgerald, HandleBar ran into a snag last fall when some community leaders objected to their request to the city for a rezoning of the parcel, from R-8 residential to B-1 business.

Supporters said encouraging the restaurant/retail project through rezoning would add a unique amenity that would uplift an increasingly residential neighborhood.

Critics called it “spot-zoning,” raising the specter of an address associated with a  liquor license that evolves into a nuisance mega-bar.

But HandleBar prevailed in City Hall. After listening to testimony at a contentious and lengthy hearing on the zoning change, a key City Council committee voted to approve it.

“That whole block now is B-1,” Fitzgerald said.

Asked how long until the business could open, providing the state loan is approved, Fitzgerald said “sometime this summer would be great.”

TAPS at Mt. Vernon Marketplace

Another restaurant project today receiving Board of Estimates support for state funding through the same program was TAPS, LLC, whose TAPS Wine and Beer Bar is part of the planned Mt. Vernon Marketplace Project at 520 Park Avenue.

TAPS, which “will specialize in wine, beer, oils and vinegar,” is seeking $50,000 for new equipment, furniture, fixtures and working capital, according to the agenda, which notes that the total cost is $100,000.

On the state website, NBWP is described as a loan program intended  for “viable” projects that would have a positive community impact.

“Priority is given to  projects that strengthen neighborhood commercial districts and are part of a greater revitalization strategy,” according to the program’s listed criteria.

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