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UMB seeks developer for historic West Side properties

The University of Maryland, Baltimore announced Thursday it is seeking developers for two historic West Side buildings near its campus.

The school has issued request for proposals from builders for the Sons of Italy building and the former Drovers and Mechanics Bank building, along with two parking lots. The properties are located between North Paca Street, West Fayette Street, North Eutaw Street and Marion Street downtown.

During his State of the University address this spring, UMB President Jay Perman discussed his desire to increase the school’s role in promoting development in the area, particularly near Lexington Market.

“We’re all committed to making a difference to the market. And we’ve got usually about 25,000 people a day on this campus, between employees, students and people who come here for service, and that represents a great customer base to the market,” Perman said in an interview following the speech. “But if the walk to the market is not more attractive, we’re going to hinder those opportunities.”

The university properties are in the area of more than a dozen vacant buildings for which the city released requests for proposals in February. The response to those requests have been mixed.

One group of about 10 properties scattered between a two-block radius with Park Avenue on the west, Cathedral Street to the east, Clay Street to the north and West Fayette Street to the south resulted in the city receiving three proposals. Those buildings were valued at a combined $3.38 million.

A second request for proposals for group of three buildings valued at $1.3 million in the 400 block of North Howard Street received one response.

The city has been trying to revitalize this section of downtown for years. Recently it rebranded the area as the Bromo Arts and Entertainment District in an attempt to draw more artists to the area. It has seen some success, such as when the Everyman Theatre relocated to the neighborhood. A recent Maryland Court of Appeals decision also cleared the way for work to begin on the proposed $1.3 billion State Center development.

In fact, when the West Side project coordinator left Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s office to work for the Baltimore Development Corp., her administration decided not to fill the position, concluding there was already sufficient momentum for redevelopment in the area.

The university’s request for proposals stipulates that the two buildings must be renovated, but a developer would be free to pursue new construction on the parking lots. The winning proposal will have to finalize plans and receive permits in 18 months. The deadline for proposals is Aug. 19.

A pre-proposal conference is scheduled for 10 a.m., June 17 at the University of Maryland School of Social Work Auditorium.