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Baltimore’s new Westside development strategy: Go small

Baltimore’s strategy to revitalize downtown’s Westside by seeking investors for smaller chunks of city-owned blight is starting to produce results that development officials hope to build on.

While by no means an unqualified success, Baltimore Development Corp.’s aggressive issuing of request for proposals, often in parcels attractive to smaller developers, has produced results officials say allows for optimism.

Kimberly Clark. (Submitted photo)

Kimberly Clark. (Submitted photo)

“We are trying to be as aggressive as we can be,” said Kimberly A. Clark, executive vice president of Baltimore Development Corp.

On Friday, the BDC, the city’s quasi-public economic development entity, issued its latest request for proposal. The city is seeking developers for 114 W. Lexington St., 116-120 W. Lexington St., and 207-209 Park Ave. A pre-development conference is scheduled at 10 a.m., March 13, at 114 W. Lexington St. The properties can be bid on individually, but the city prefers a single developer.

The Superblock from the Catholic Relief building in 2013. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

The Superblock from the Catholic Relief building in 2013. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

During the past four years the BDC has solicited proposals for dozens of individual properties on the Westside. But there’s been a focus on trying to make the parcels accessible to smaller developers after the demise of the Superblock proposal and after a pair of New York-based accountants transformed the former Divine Seafood and Palmer House Restaurant properties.

“I thought we’d never get rid of (the properties). They were the worst of the worst,” Clark said.

Efforts to lure developers with smaller parcels have resulted in projects such as Poverni Sheikh Group’s redevelopment of 602 N. Howard St. into a mix of storage and retail space. The same developer is moving ahead with mix of apartments and retail in the 400 block of Howard St. via the request for proposal process.

A handful of other properties in what’s called the Howard Street East parcel also have development agreements in place. Episcopal Housing Corp. plans to build affordable housing on two Westside Parking lots the city issued requests for proposals on in September.

The BDC also plans to seek development proposals for the old Mayfair Theatre this spring, which would continue the momentum along Howard Street corridor.

“We’re starting to sew up Howard Street,” Clark said.

But not every attempt to find a developer has worked out. The city issued a request for proposal for properties on what’s been dubbed the Lexington Howard parcels. Those properties, once part of the failed Superblock development, attracted only one proposal deemed responsive.

Clark said the potential for redevelopment of the former Brager-Gutman department store that the city, which the city solicited developers for in September, could provide the momentum to attract better proposals for the Lexington Howard properties.

On Thursday, the development corporation’s board chose to back a proposal for the Brager-Gutman property that would transform the long vacant building into an 80-bed skilled nursing facility, with 25,000 square feet of office space and 12,000 square feet of retail.

“Let’s get these into private hands, because they are just sitting there deteriorating,” Clark said.

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