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Superblock demolition faces vote

Baltimore’s $150 million Superblock project will inch forward once again Wednesday if the city’s Board of Estimates approves a contract to demolish two buildings at the downtown site.

The $2.5 million contract would raze the former Greyhound Bus station at 206 W. Fayette St. and a former pawn shop at 101 N. Howard St.

In their place, a 300-unit apartment tower with retail space is expected to be built.

The Baltimore Development Corp., the city’s quasi-public development arm, proposed the demolitions as part of the controversial, decade-old Superblock project. The state Department of General Services will bid and manage the demolition.

“It is a city demolition of some city-owned property,” said Ronald M. Kreitner, executive director of the Westside Renaissance Inc., a nonprofit preservation advocacy group.

The board is expected to vote on the contract at its weekly meeting — held the day after the mayoral primary.

The Superblock development has been a bone of contention for years as preservationists have battled developers and the BDC over some of the historic buildings at the site.

Demolition of the former Read’s Drugs store, where a 1955 civil rights sit-in was conducted at the lunch counter by students from Morgan State University, has been bitterly protested — and the matter has stalled the redevelopment efforts for more than a year.

On May 10, the Baltimore Commission on Historical and Architectural Preservation voted to approve a concept design for the Superblock that includes preserving the façade of Read’s. The old store is located at the corner of Lexington and Howard streets.

CHAP has mandated that the developer, Lexington Square Partners LLC, return by December with a final design for the entire Superblock.

Efforts to develop the block have come in fits and starts for 10 years as BDC officials have attempted to spark a rejuvenation of the city’s stagnant West Side, once the scene of a bustling retail and social hub.

The Superblock, bordered by Park Avenue and Fayette, Lexington and Howard streets, is planned to hold 250,000 square feet of retail space and 200,000 square feet of office space. An 800-space parking garage is also intended for the site as well as a 120-room boutique hotel.

Johns Hopkins, executive director of Baltimore Heritage, a nonprofit architectural and historic preservation group, said Tuesday that the demolition of the former Greyhound Bus station and the pawn shop would not interfere with efforts to save historic buildings on the Superblock — because neither building is designated historic.

Hopkins said he will continue to monitor the Superblock development.

“We’ve not heard any indication that the development team is any more ready to move forward with the Superblock project than they were six months or a year ago,” Hopkins said. “I am concerned that the historic block will start to undergo piecemeal demolition without assurance of new development.”

Hopkins said the demolitions could mean the development would leave a sawtooth design in the city’s downtown fabric.

“Unfortunately, we in Baltimore have too many examples of this already,” he said, ticking off a list of other projects that have been demolished with no new development, including the site of the former McCormick Spice Co. across the street from Harborplace.

Bailey T. Pope, senior vice president for the Dawson Co., the Atlanta-based development team of the Superblock, said Tuesday the project is continuing to move forward.

The proposed demolitions of the former Greyhound station and pawn shop are not part of the development team’s work at the site, Pope said.

“These are non-contributing buildings, and not subject to the historic review,” Pope said. “They are buildings the city determined that it is to their advantage to remove them.”

Pope said Dawson is working on an “updated design” to present to CHAP by the end of 2011. Signing a lease with an anchor retail tenant for the new Superblock development is also under negotiation.

“I can’t comment until things are signed,” Pope said.