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Baltimore again extends deadline for Superblock agreement

Top city officials Wednesday gave another extension to developers of the $150 million Superblock project so they could line up financing — including a newly proposed taxpayer-supported incentive that city officials say totals $17.6 million — and retail tenants.

Lexington Square Partners told the Board of Estimates Wednesday that it is negotiating a lease on the anchor tenant space for the property at West Lexington Street and Park Avenue.

The Board of Estimates voted unanimously to extend the land disposition agreement for another eight months — until Dec. 31 — to Lexington Square Partners LLC, of New York and Atlanta, for the mega-project on the city’s West Side.

The developers were granted a six-month extension on Dec. 21 by the panel, but managers of the stalled development said in a two-page letter to city Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano that they need more time.

“We have engaged KNLB of Baltimore as our retail broker,” the letter said. “We have engaged in aggressive marketing of the retail space within Lexington Square. We have executed a letter of interest and are currently negotiating a lease on the anchor tenant space.”

Bailey T. Pope, an architect and member of the Lexington Square Partners, attended the Board of Estimates meeting Wednesday, but declined to identify the anchor tenant, citing superstition.

Pope said the contract had not yet been signed.

This week, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake sent legislation to the City Council proposing a 20-year payment in lieu of taxes for the project, which would grant a 95 percent property tax break for 15 years and a gradual increase in property taxes at the site for the remaining five years.

Irene Van Sant, an analyst for the Baltimore Development Corp., said Wednesday the proposed PILOT would grant $17.6 million in property tax relief over 20 years based on an assessment of the Superblock property at $64.5 million today.

The local news blog Baltimore Brew reported this week that the tax break would total about $35 million over 20 years.

The mayor’s PILOT legislation was introduced at Monday’s council meeting and assigned to the Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee, where it is expected to be the subject of review and public hearings this summer, said Councilman Carl Stokes, chair of the committee.

The PILOT would cover a 296-unit apartment tower at the site and a 650-space parking garage.

Superblock developers are also expected to apply for state enterprise zone tax credits for the 217,444-square-foot retail portion of the project, located at West Lexington Street and Park Avenue.

This week, M.J. “Jay” Brodie, president of the BDC, said the project could not move forward if the PILOT and tax breaks were not granted.

The Superblock development has been in the works for about 10 years and has been the subject of much debate.

Last year, a group of preservationists protested the overall design because it called for the demolition of the former Read’s Drug Store building, the scene of a 1955 civil rights sit-in protest by Morgan State University students. Architects for the Superblock said they were unaware of the historical significance of the site and have since incorporated the façade into the new plans as well as a tribute.

Funding and design issues for the project have also been debated over the past decade. In the meantime, the now-city-owned buildings that make up the Superblock have remained vacant and decayed. The area was once the city’s downtown retail hub with three large department stores and many smaller stores lining the streets and attracting thousands of shoppers each week.