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BDC sees Westside progress despite challenges

Superblock

This file photo shows the Superblock corridor along West Lexington Street in Baltimore. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Progress is being made redeveloping long-vacant deteriorating properties on downtown Baltimore’s Westside, many of them once part of the failed Superblock development proposal, according to the city’s quasi-public economic development agency.

A spokeswoman for the Baltimore Development Corp. in an email cited apartment and retail buildings on West Lexington Street, retail on North Liberty Street and a spate of developments in the 400 block of North Howard Street as examples of recent progress in breathing new life into the Westside of downtown.

Kimberly A. Clark, executive vice president of the Baltimore Development Corp., said the organization is pleased with the variety of developers and organizations investing on the Westside, compared to a few years ago, when there were only two or three investors taking on projects. She credited much of the revitalization in that area to residential projects that have helped lure retail to the area.

“We’re happy with the progress, but we won’t be totally satisfied until every city-owned (vacant, blighted) property is in private hands,” Clark said.

According to Susan Yum, BDC spokeswoman, in addition to those developments the city is in an exclusive negotiating period or in the process of finalizing a land disposition agreement for other properties. She declined to discuss those deals before they were final.

This activity comes two years after the city issued request for proposals on 27 city-owned sites on the Westside, many of them part of the former Superblock site. Those proposals were issued roughly a week after a decision by Maryland’s highest court cleared the way for the city to find new developers for those parcels in August of 2015.

But the Westside, despite recent investments, is still littered with vacant, outdated retail spaces in rapidly decaying buildings. Despite heavy foot traffic in the area, mostly from mass transit riders, and the proximity to venues like the Royal Farms Arena and Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the neighborhood still faces deep challenges in attracting investment.

Redevelopment of what was dubbed the Superblock, essentially two blocks roughly bordered by Park Avenue, Howard, Fayette and Lexington streets, was viewed as key to the revitalization of the city’s Westside. The block sits between more thriving areas of downtown east of Charles Street and Lexington Market.

Lexington Square Partners and the city in 2007 entered into a $150 million development agreement for the block. The developer planned a mixed-use project with apartments, retail, hotel and office space. But in 2013 the city canceled the agreement after it declined to give the developer a sixth extension to raise capital. The developer sued the city but ultimately lost the court battle when the Maryland Court of Appeals declined to hear the case.

Baltimore has also launched an ambitious plan to transform Lexington Market, which many considered to be vital to any sustained renaissance on the Westside. The Baltimore Public Market Corp. proposed demolishing the existing market building and building a new structure. That proposal is expected to cost about $40 million, but there’s currently no timeline for the redevelopment or funding in place.


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