Citing persistent vandalism by the homeless, the city will demolish the former Greyhound bus terminal on the “Superblock” site downtown – even as plans for a $150-million replacement project remain up in the air.
“People are breaking in and setting fires,” said M.J. “Jay” Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp. (BDC), which is responsible for the city-owned block bounded by Howard, Lexington and Fayette streets and Park Avenue.
“We’ve spent city money buttoning it up and it’s still impossible. People are coming in the building through the skylights and using ladders to gain access,” Brodie added.
The five-story, 36,000-square-foot structure and a vacant “Easy Pawn” storefront at 101 North Howard St. are considered non-historic buildings under an agreement between the city and the Maryland Historical Trust, allowing the city to dispose of the properties as it sees fit.
Demolition of the two buildings fits into the plans of the site’s potential developer, who wants to put a parking garage and apartment tower in their place, but worries preservationists who say that the block’s overall integrity will be destroyed. “The concern is that this might be the beginning of piecemeal demolition of Superblock before we are assured we are going to have a development project take its place,” said Johns Hopkins, executive director of Baltimore Heritage.
The former Greyound terminal was sold to the city by the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation in return for property at Park Ave. north of Lexington St. that was slated for mixed-used redevelopment by Weinberg and the Cordish Companies. This project has been stalled by the lack of progress at Superblock and now consists of a large plot of fenced-in grass.
Bids Due Next Week
A pre-bid conference for the demolition attracted about five companies, city officials said, and sealed bids for the takedown of the bus terminal and pawnshop are due on Sept. 28.
The city Board of Estimates has transferred $2.52 million in West Side construction funds to cover the demolition costs. Brodie said he hopes the bid prices will come in substantially below that figure. If all goes according to schedule, demolition could begin in November. Brodie said the sites will be turned into fenced grass lots.
Meanwhile, the city is still negotiating with the Chera, Feil, Goldman (Lexington Square Partners) group of New York and the Dawson Co. of Atlanta to sell the Superblock property for a mixed-use project that includes national-brand retail stores, a 260-unit apartment building, 725-space parking garage and possibly a boutique hotel.
The project has been plagued by delays and controversy, most recently over the consortium’s plans to demolish the former Read’s Drug Store on Howard Street where Morgan State University students conducted a pioneering civil rights demonstration in 1955.
Last spring, a compromise to keep intact part of the facade of the Read’s building was struck by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who has placed construction of Superblock at the top of her administration’s priorities.
Given two six-month extensions by the city, the Chera-Dawson group now have a December 31 deadline to reach an agreement to buy the block and proceed with construction.
Brodie said the city’s cost of demolishing the ex-bus station would be factored into the property settlement, but otherwise would not comment on the status of the negotiations.
Judge Dismisses Angelos Lawsuit
Last week, one obstacle to the project was lifted when Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge John P. Miller dismissed a lawsuit by Peter G. Angelos that challenged an agreement between the Maryland Historical Trust and the city.
The judge ruled that Angelos’ 120 West Fayette Street LLLP was not a party to the agreement and thus could not object to its terms. The Baltimore Orioles’ owner argued that, under pressure by the city, the executive director of Maryland Historical Trust had agreed to terms that threatened the destruction of historic buildings on the site.
The Chera-Dawson group was selected in 2005 to develop Superblock as part of the planned resurrection of the Howard Street retail district. The group has blamed lawsuits and opposition by preservation groups for its inability to come up with concrete plans – or apparent financing – for the project, described as the biggest redevelopment in the central city.
Charles S. Hirsch, the Ballard Spahr lawyer who represents the Chera group, would not comment on the progress of the project.