News that Citigroup is foreclosing on developer Patrick Turner's Westport Waterfront property did not alarm Keisha Allen, the leader of the Westport Neighborhood Association.
"To the average person, it looks like everything in Westport is tied up with Pat Turner," Allen said Tuesday. But, she said, "the waterfront is the icing on the cake of development that's happening here."
Financial troubles for Turner's massive mixed-use development along the western shore of the Middle Branch of the Patapsco river have been simmering for months, culminating with Citigroup Global Markets Realty Corp. filing a foreclosure lawsuit last week against Turner's Westport development companies. Citigroup alleges he owes the bank $31.8 million on the long-stalled project.
Turner began planning for a revitalization of the 50-acre Westport waterfront more than seven years ago, eventually revealing plans for a $1.4 billion gleaming development of 2,000 homes, millions of square feet of office space, a hotel and a 65-story skyscraper. There was even talk of installing a professional soccer stadium at the site, which was dubbed "Harbor West."
Four years ago, the City Council passed planned unit development legislation that allows for residential and retail uses on the waterfront land, largely former industrial sites. But when the recession hit, Turner's plans stalled — like many others in Baltimore and across the United States — and, except for some environmental remediation, have been struggling since to get off the ground.
Allen and other Westport residents, as well as city officials, have not not pinned all their expectations for the community on the Turner project.
"There's already redevelopment going on in the existing Westport," Allen said.
Young adults are buying refurbished homes on the streets farther back from the water, she said, and last year the community had portions of Annapolis Road, the area's main drag, rezoned for commercial use.
Westport's residents are focusing on how to get some essentials — a bank, a hair salon, a diner — to move into the neighborhood, rather than worrying about the development that has been too expensive to get going along the waterfront, Allen said.
Some residents have become frustrated by getting their hopes up, time and again, that construction might actually begin on the waterfront, said Linda Towe, the executive director of Project TOOUR Inc., a community development group that operates in Westport. There's a lack of integration between the existing community and what is happening along the waterfront, she said.
Two other lawsuits had been filed against Turner and an affiliated company for unpaid bills stemming from the Westport project. Then, in July, Citigroup appointed trustees for Turner's Westport land, signaling a move toward foreclosure.
Turner did not respond to two phone calls Tuesday.
In spite of those challenges, Westport residents and city representatives have not given up hope for Turner or for the revitalization of the large swath of barren riverfront just south of Interstate 95.
"He doesn't give up … he's a go-getter," said Baltimore City Councilman Edward L. Reisinger of Turner.
Both Reisinger and Kaliope Parthemos, Baltimore's deputy chief of economic and neighborhood development, said they know Turner is actively seeking a lender to purchase the Citigroup note.
The city, Parthemos said, still is committed to the redevelopment of the waterfront site. And the foreclosure, if it is completed, does not end the development potential of the land, she said.
Ruth Sherrill, president of the Westport Improvement Association Inc., said she appreciates what Turner has done so far for the community, in particular keeping the waterfront cleaner than when it was lined with factories. She said she hopes Turner is able to continue his plans.
"It is a shame that is has happened like this," Sherrill said.
If Turner is not able to keep the property, a low purchase price at a foreclosure sale could jump start development. But, until it is settled who will develop the property, Westport's residents are content focusing on making the best of what's there already.
"With or without development on the water, we should be able to impact the neighborhood," said Loren Duffey, a real estate agent who focuses on residences in Westport, which is not far from downtown and accessible by light rail.
When the time comes, he said, someone is going to takes the Westport waterfront redevelopment over the finish line.
"It's got location, location, location," Duffey said. "It's just a matter of getting the ball rolling."
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