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Old Town Mall in Baltimore
Old Town Mall in Baltimore

State awards Old Town demolition funds

The state announced it is awarding $300,000 to Baltimore so it can rehabilitate or possibly demolish part of Old Town Mall.

Earlier this month the Baltimore Development Corp. issued a request for proposal to redevelop the Old Town Mall, a once-thriving commercial center with a 150-year history that has fallen on hard times. Gov. Martin O’Malley was on hand to make the announcement and said the area has made progress since he was mayor but that there’s a need for investment in the property.

“But certainly we know this area, while it still has good bones, while it is in a sweet spot between Downtown, and Midtown, and Johns Hopkins [Hospital and Health System] there’s still more work to do, and that is why this fund is so important,” O’Malley said.

The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development announced on Monday it was awarding $5 million from the Strategic Demolition and Smart Growth Impact Fund to several communities statewide to aid in 13 revitalization and demolition projects. Those funds are expected to leverage $292 million in public and private investments. Baltimore alone received $2.15 million of the money for five projects.

“That means jobs, it means tax revenue for local communities and the state … it means economic revitalization and I think the enhancement in quality of life in some of the older communities across this state,” said Clarence J. Snuggs, deputy secretary of the Department of Housing and Community Development.

Although renderings on display showed much of the existing Old Town Mall being demolished, except for historic properties and the building that’s home to the Baltimore City Fire Museum, BDC President and CEO Brenda McKenzie said it isn’t certain whether or not the buildings will be destroyed.

“It may not totally be razed. You have to be creative and we’re certainly working with the development community to see what creative thoughts come back,” McKenzie said. “Because we do want to preserve this character.”

Responses to the Old Town Mall request for proposal aren’t due until August, and any demolition on the site wouldn’t take place until after the city receives responses from possible developers. McKenzie also said that state funds may not cover the demolition costs and the money could be used to leverage private funds for the demolition.

She said there aren’t currently any plans to use government subsidies, such as tax increment financing, to encourage development, but she didn’t rule out using those incentives to attract builders.

One potential development, which was included in the area’s master plan, calls for 48 mixed-income residential units and ground floor retail as part of the Old Town Mall redevelopment. But McKenzie said developers will have the final say as to what is built on the site.

“The end result will depend partially on what comes back from the development community, but that plan is certainly referenced and will be considered,” she said.

Councilman Carl Stokes, who represents the area, said he believes that demolition will need to be a large part of any redevelopment.

“Areas like these need revitalization, in order for that to happen, first we need to do some demolition, we need to clear the land,” Stokes said. “Generally we’ve got developers coming in, they may not have the money to both demolish and build.”