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Business & Developmentby Mark Reutter and Fern Shen4:00 pmFeb 8, 20170

Caves Valley terminates its agreement to upgrade the Cross Street Market

Developer Mirmiran bristled at criticism of his plan. Mayor Pugh vows to get project back on track

Above: Eggnog served up recently by Anna Epsilantis, owner of Big Jim’s Deli, one of the Cross Street Market businesses told to vacate by May 1. (Fern Shen)

Caves Valley Partners said today it is terminating its agreement to renovate the Cross Street Market after weeks of controversy and community irritation over the developer’s plans to remove the current merchants.

The agreement – approved by former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the Board of Estimates last November – will lapse on March 1.

The new mayor, Catherine Pugh, responded to the developer’s withdrawal by vowing to get the renovation back on track.

“I want to see the Cross Street Market become what the community wants and certainly deserves,” Pugh said late today. The Baltimore Public Markets Corp. will “reengage the community” to overhaul the market, which has visibly deteriorated over the last decade.

John C. Murphy, the attorney representing the market’s 15 tenants who faced eviction on May 1, said he was delighted by the termination, which was only conveyed to City Hall officials this morning.

“It’s terrific,” said Murphy, who had been pressing the Pugh Administration to get Caves Valley to pay the merchants’ moving and relocation expenses.

“Now we’ve got to get the city to put that $2 million into fixing up that market and bringing in somebody who knows what they’re doing to manage it,” Murphy said, referring to the money the city had agreed to pay towards the $6.5 million makeover that gave Caves Valley a 50-year lease to manage the property.

Out of Sync

Arsh Mirmiran, partner at the Towson-based Caves Valley, had been pushing for major upgrades at the market, including a new liquor license covering the entire three-block-long public building.

But he ran into a storm of criticism from merchants and community allies when he told longtime vendors that, instead of renovating the market in stages, the market would have to be shut down entirely.

The merchants were told to clear out before May 1 and were unable to get an agreement from Caves Valley to pay moving and relocation expenses.

Adding to the discontent over Caves Valley was a feeling expressed by some South Baltimore residents that its renovations were not in keeping with the old-world charm of the neighborhood and would lead to additional waves of young people drinking and partying on weekends.

Yet another point of friction was Caves Valley’s attempt to evict Nick’s Inner Harbor Seafood on claims that it had serious health code problems. The Health Department said that none of the violations was serious.

After Nick’s got a temporary restraining order from the Baltimore District Court, CSM Ventures, a Caves Valley subsidiary, agreed to allow the merchant to stay open.

The Political Dimension

Sources tell The Brew that Mirmiran has been seething over the Nick’s case and what he considered to be the lack of support by Mayor Pugh, who, he liked to tell associates, was generously supported by Caves Valley during her election campaign.

The Brew has traced $12,000 contributed from Mirmiran and Caves Valley subsidiaries to Pugh’s political committee before last year’s primary. Some of the money was funneled through Stadium Square Holdings, a $275 million apartment-office venture under construction by Caves Valley and Texas-based Hanover Co. in Sharp-Leadenhall.

Mirmiran bragged that he could build up Stadium Square’s retail outlets to drain off business from the Cross Street Market.

Only one bid has emerged for a developer to run the Cross Street Market.

Area residents have discussed the need for a makeover for the market for years. (Fern Shen)

Mirmiran emailed back today to say that he would not make a comment. He has refused to talk to The Brew since a 2015 article quoted from his verbal attack on a Sharp-Leadenhall community activist during a public meeting.

In a statement released exclusively to The Baltimore Sun, Mirmiran said:

“It has become evident to us that perhaps we misread the desire and the will to fully transform the Market and that the vision we created was not one that was shared by as many as we hoped or believed. We will be keenly interested to see the refined vision for the revitalization of the Market, as dictated by the merchants and the surrounding communities, as well as how and when it can receive the attention it desperately needs.

“We genuinely hope that all of the support for the merchants does not wane and that the momentum leads to positive results for all involved.”

Murphy, the merchants’ lawyer, said the reason the market is currently rundown is that the city and the quasi-public Markets Corp. have not sufficiently invested in the property.

Lawmakers: Renovation Needed

Over the weekend, 46th District legislators released a draft of a bill to create a special “umbrella” liquor license for the market.

Under the bill’s provisions, the market’s management would pay a $50,000 annual fee, but that fee would drop to $10,000 if the company would obtain and extinguish two existing licenses in the market area.

Responding to the abundance of liquor licenses in the Cross Street-Federal Hill area, lawmakers had previously passed legislation limiting the creation of new licenses.

In crafting the new legislation, according to Del. Luke Clippinger, who led the effort, attempts were made to ensure that there would be no negative impact in an area where the “addition of new bar stools” has been an issue.

“My main reaction [to Caves Valley’s withdrawal] is disappointment, and I know that is shared by many in the community because one thing I felt and I know people in the community did agree on was they wanted to see improvements in that market,” Clippinger said.

“And now, for the moment at least, that’s not going to happen.”

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