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Baltimore announces agreement for developing large chunk of Westside

The Superblock, as seen from the Catholic Relief building on Lexington Street. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

The “Superblock” of largely abandoned or neglected Westside Baltimore properties, as seen from the Catholic Relief building on Lexington Street. Many of the properties contained in the ill-fated development plan have now been packaged for a new development project announced Wednesday. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

Baltimore city development officials today announced the approval of an agreement with a development partnership for a project to revive almost an entire block of blighted properties on the Westside, a major milestone in efforts to revitalize a long-neglected area of downtown.

The Baltimore Development Corporation said it has obtained approval from the Board of Estimates for a land disposition agreement between the city and Westside Partners LLC for the acquisition and redevelopment of 18 properties on the Westside of downtown.

Westside Partners, which is comprised of Vitruvius, Landmark Partners, Partnered and Mayson-Dixon Companies, is purchasing 201-231 West Lexington St., 101-121 North Howard St., 206-226 West Fayette St., 221 Marion St. and 106-112 Park Ave., along with three public alleys adjacent to the properties, for $4.5 million, to be paid in cash at settlement.

 “It is critically important that the city completes its mission to make the Westside of downtown one of the most attractive neighborhoods in Baltimore in which to live and do business,” said Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young.  “The Westside Partners’ development is the type of investment we are looking to continue to attract to the Westside; it will complement current projects underway and serve as a catalyst for new business, new residents and new jobs.”

The developer is planning a comprehensive, mixed-use rehabilitation of some of the structures with a significant new construction component. The concept includes workforce housing, market-rate rental housing, retail, office, co-working, artist live/workspace, an entertainment venue, and a hotel, officials said in the announcement.

Baltimore’s Westside once served as the city’s premiere retail district anchored by major department stores and Lexington Market. In the years following World War II, as middle-class residents fled the city for the suburbs and retailers and other businesses followed them, the neighborhood fell on hard times.

For more than two decades, revitalization efforts have pushed ahead on the Westside.  One of the most ambitious proposals, the so-called “Superblock” plan to redevelop properties along Howard and Lexington, collapsed along with the economy in 2008, leading to a protracted series of lawsuits.

The demise of the Superblock plan led the BDC and city officials to focus on offering smaller parcels for developers to bid on, a strategy that has enjoyed some successes, albeit some setbacks as well.

To date, BDC has coordinated the disposition of 37 properties in the Westside of downtown, which resulted in more than $90 million in new investments, with another $20 million in the pipeline, officials said. With the latest sale and planned redevelopment of city-owned properties, the Westside will attract another $100 million in the development pipeline.

“Breathing new life into these historic vacant properties on the Westside have been at the forefront of BDC’s efforts,” said BDC president and CEO Colin Tarbert.  “This project will invest over $100 million to create a vibrant mixed-use community that will attract new residents, businesses and visitors to the Westside.  The Westside Partners project fits our vision for a dynamic, diverse and thriving arts & entertainment district on Downtown’s Westside.”

In March 2019, BDC released two requests for proposals for city-owned properties bounded by Howard, Lexington and Fayette streets and Park Avenue.  An RFP was issued for each half of the block bisected by Marion Street. The intent of the RFPs was to promote the continued revitalization of the Westside of downtown Baltimore through redevelopment of the properties.