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Editorial: Raze the Mechanic

A local developer has come forth with a bold plan to re-energize the heart of the city by building a $150 million residential and retail complex at Baltimore and Charles streets.

The only thing standing in the way — literally — is the 45-year-old Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, which has been closed since 2004.

To that we say: Tear it down.

The Mechanic was a key part of the 33-acre Charles Center project, which opened in 1967 and breathed new life into downtown Baltimore. The theater enjoyed some glorious years, providing a venue for touring Broadway shows.

Built in the architectural style known as Brutalist, with rough, angular concrete finishes, the structure also gained a reputation among many for being a singularly unattractive — some critics simply said ugly — building.

Because of its architectural style, the Commission for Historical & Architectural Preservation placed the Mechanic on its Special List in 2004. But in 2008, the Baltimore Planning Commission denied landmark status to the theater, contradicting a vote by CHAP recommending the designation.

Now CHAP must consider the developer’s request to raze the structure to make room for the new complex. A decision is expected within six months.

We urge CHAP to let the demolition proceed.

Developer Howard Brown, a partner in the development group OneWest LLC and president of David S. Brown Enterprises, has made a good faith effort to retain the theater as part of the new development. But he told The Daily Record’s Melody Simmons that after three years of planning, it became obvious that the theater had to go.

“I think the building is functionally and physically obsolete,” Mr. Brown said. “There’s a lot of decay in the building and we’ve come to the conclusion that we’d rather build two new towers and a new base and new parking.”

His plan calls for two, 30-story towers with 600 market-rate apartments, a 150,000-square-foot retail complex and an underground parking garage. Construction would begin this year if the necessary approvals are obtained in time.

Mr. Brown’s project has enormous appeal for several reasons. First, it would jump start a tired section of the downtown core, plagued with vacant storefronts, that desperately needs a lift. Second, it meshes perfectly with the push for more residential space in the central city being orchestrated by the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore.

Finally, with a downtown residential occupancy rate of 97 percent, conditions should be very favorable for obtaining financing for the project.

Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership, says Mr. Brown’s project “is the glue that will hold everything together downtown.”

Well said. Let’s get started.