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Baltimore Development Corp. board backs ASH Westside proposal

Baltimore is seeking developers for five properties in the 100 blocks of Fayette and Liberty streets in downtown's Westside. (The Daily Record/ Adam Bednar)

Baltimore’s economic development agency has recommended a developer for properties on Fayette and Liberty streets in downtown’s Westside. (The Daily Record/ Adam Bednar)

The Baltimore Development Corp.’s board favors a proposal from a New York-based developer to transform more city-owned blight on downtown’s Westside.

Developer ASH proposes renovating the buildings at 142-144 W. Fayette St. and 102-106 N. Liberty St., into 20 apartments and roughly 4,000 square feet of ground floor retail. Construction could start by the end of 2019 and finish by the fall of 2020, according to a timeline presented to the board.

“It’s a terrific opportunity,” Ira Kowler, an economic development officer for the corporation, told board members.

The city’s quasi-economic development agency’s board voted unanimously on Thursday, during a meeting held via conference call, to recommend Mayor Catherine Pugh approve an exclusive negotiating period and right of entry with ASH.

The board is recommending the mayor set a price of $200,000 for the buildings, which have 16,200 square feet of original space. That price, corporation staff told board members, compares to offers included in additional responses the city received answering a request for proposal issued in September.

Located in an enterprise zone, the properties are eligible for various tax incentives, including the city’s 10-year tax credit for building market-rate apartments.

Kowler cited ASH’s previous experience in recommending the board back the firm’s pitch. ASH’s previous work includes historic renovations, and the firm currently leads the redevelopment of the Latrobe Building in the city’s Mount Vernon neighborhood.

Another factor in endorsing ASH’s bid, Kowler said, were concerns about assumptions regarding residential development in some of the responses the agency received.

In all, five groups expressed interest in the properties, which were part of the original request for proposal in 2007 for what became known as the “Superblock.” The buildings, however, were not included in Lexington Square Partners LLC’s failed proposal referred to by that name.

Adam Hoffman and Gabe Bentovim, who overhauled Westside properties, including 416 N. Howard St.; The Tran Group, which developed several downtown properties, including Baltimore Plaza Hotel; AED Development LLC, which worked on the Maryland VA Medical Center in Baltimore; and newcomers HUB LLC all submitted responses.

Board member and immediate past Chairman Arnold Williams raised questions about selecting ASH and the lack of minority- and women-owned firms in the proposal.

Baltimore Development Corp. Executive Vice President Kimberly A. Clark explained the request for proposal for the Liberty and Fayette streets properties was the last issued by the agency prior to stipulating the requirement of under-represented firms being included in proposals.

Natasha Guynes, founder of Her Resiliency Center and member of the HUB LLC development team, expressed disappointment the group’s proposal wasn’t selected. That group, which consisted primarily of local stakeholders, proposed rehabbing the properties with 17 apartments and three ground-floor retail units.

She said HUB LLC hopes to work with the city to find additional redevelopment opportunities. That minority- and women-owned firms didn’t receive more consideration was frustrating, she said.

“As a business that took into consideration women- and minority-owned businesses, it is disappointing those were not taken into consideration with the vote this morning,” Guynes said.

Baltimore elected and economic development officials have long aspired to restore luster to the Westside neighborhood.

The area once served as the city’s retail hub. Such department stores as Hutzler Bros., Hochschild, Kohn and The Hecht Co. called the area home. Following World War II and “white flight” to surrounding suburbs, the neighborhood started a long and precipitous decline.

The Baltimore Development Corp. in recent years has moved aggressively to find developers to overhaul city-owned blighted properties on downtown’s Westside.

Between February 2014 and September 2018, according to the city’s economic development agency, Baltimore issued 17 requests for proposals for 75 individual addresses on the Westside.

Those efforts achieved a significant milestone in December when the city’s spending board approved a land disposition agreement with Zahlco Development LLC for the purchase and redevelopment of the historic Mayfair Theatre and the former Franklin/Delphy hotel site.

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