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Brexton for sale again

Plans to rehabilitate Baltimore’s historic Brexton building have fallen through, putting the 19th century former hotel back on the real estate market.

Owner and developer Park Avenue LLC failed to execute ambitious plans to convert 868 Park Ave. into upscale condominiums, a project proposed in late 2005 to the city planning department. The castle-like, triangular-shaped building in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood is now for sale for $1.25 million.

The property has drawn tremendous interest, said Antony Gross, the broker with Coldwell Banker Commercial NRT who is marketing the building. Four formal offers have been made to purchase the Brexton, one of which the owner is now considering, according to Gross.

“We’ve shown it 30 times,” Gross said.

It is unclear why the developer did not follow through with the building’s renovation. Stephen Mowbray, a managing member of Park Avenue LLC, declined to comment.

“He just realized that this is a bigger project than what he is prepared to do right now,” Gross said.

The city housing department is likely one reason why the Brexton is for sale. The department took Park Avenue LLC to court last year because the building was in violation of city housing codes and considered “unfit for human habitation,” said David Tillman, a spokesman for the housing department. The court ruled that Park Avenue LLC would have to bring the building to code or sell it by late 2006, Tillman said.

“We told him we were going to hold his feet to the fire,” Tillman said.

A little more than a year ago, representatives from Park Avenue LLC expressed confidence in the Brexton renovation, praising the building’s unique character and location to the city’s Commission on Historical and Architectural Preservation.

“It’s the cultural district,” Mowbray told The Daily Record in December 2005. “The Inner Harbor has fabulous views and more amenities for the younger set, but Mount Vernon has all of the cultural attractions.”

But Mowbray and his partners did have their doubts. John Simpson, Park Avenue LLC’s project manager, called the Brexton renovation a “risk.” The building, vacant since the late 1980s, was in serious disrepair and therefore expensive to renovate. Its strange shape further complicated matters. While the building has an imposing presence on Park Avenue, it only comprises about 12,100 square feet of space. A lack of on-site parking is another issue.

Investors overlooked those problems, convinced the building’s distinctiveness would prevail. Formerly a residential hotel, the Brexton housed Wallis Warfield Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, when she lived in Baltimore. The Brexton’s grand architecture, with its two framing turrets, makes the building instantly memorable.

Park Avenue LLC was not the first to think they could make the Brexton work. A cadre of developers have tried and failed to renovate the building over the years, proposing options ranging from a bed-and-breakfast to a dance club.

“It’s a real tough property,” said R. Paul Warren, vice president of the Mount Vernon Belvedere Association. “It looks huge and wonderful, but it’s almost all fa