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Drovers and Mechanics National Bank
The former Drovers & Mechanics National Bank building, shown here, is one of two historic, West Side properties eyed for redevelopment by the University of Maryland, Baltimore. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

UMB seeks to redevelop historic West Side properties

Two historic yet deteriorating properties on Baltimore’s West Side — the former Sons of Italy building and the former Drovers & Mechanics National Bank — will likely move closer this week to finally getting new life.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore is seeking permission to move forward with the redevelopment of those two properties, as well as two surface lots nearby, which amount to almost an entire city block just south of Lexington Market.

The four properties, which are all university-owned and together total a little less than one acre, have long been targeted for redevelopment by city and university officials eager to clean up the area surrounding UMB’s campus and the historic market.

On Thursday, UMB officials will ask the Finance Committee of the Board of Regents to approve their plan to enter into a 75-year ground lease with an affiliate of Focus Development LLC and Kinsley Equities III L.P.

The proposal calls for bringing rental housing and related amenities, retail and office space and parking to the site, which is bound by North Paca, West Fayette, North Eutaw and Marion streets.

Certain activities would be prohibited on the property, including adult entertainment, liquor sales (except as part of a restaurant) and gambling.

Under the terms of the 75-year ground lease, the university would charge $90,000 in annual rent, or the developers would have the option to purchase the fee interest for $3 million. Buying the fee interest means the developer pays a certain amount upfront in lieu of paying rent every year.

If the developer takes that option, the university would be able to invest the $3 million and potentially earn more money over time than it would earn after 75 years of receiving rent payments.

If the Finance Committee approves the proposal on Thursday, the plan would then go before the full Board of Regents — the 17-member governing body of the University System of Maryland. Developers would then also need approval from the Maryland Historical Trust and other regulators prior to beginning construction.

Back in June, the university issued a request for proposals to develop the four properties, but the desire to convert the historic buildings was born nearly a decade ago, when UMB attempted to sign a deal with a different developer.

That agreement didn’t pan out, and in the years since, the buildings have continued to deteriorate. They’re currently unoccupied and unusable for university purposes, according to documents filed with the Board of Regents.

But, over the past two and a half years, West Side redevelopment has become a greater priority for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, whose administration has been working with UMB toward that goal.

“The plan nine years ago was the victim of the economy,” said UMB spokesman Alex Likowski. “The economic downturn made that kind of development difficult, but that doesn’t mean our interest waned. It’s still a viable project and we’re excited to see this happen.”

In addition to rental revenue, the university would also save the money currently being spent to maintain and stabilize the properties, officials said.

The proposal will likely get the stamp of approval by the committee on Thursday, as USM Chancellor William E. “Brit” Kirwan has recommended the project move forward.

About Alissa Gulin

Alissa Gulin covers health care, education and general business at The Daily Record.