Bill Struever, Michael Posko, J. Martin Lastner

Several former executives of Struever Bros. Eccles and Rouse have formed a new company called Cross Street Partners. Left to right: Bill Struever, Michael Posko, J. Martin Lastner. (Baltimore Sun photo by Barbara Haddock Taylor / December 14, 2010)

Two years after C. William Struever's real estate empire collapsed and the once-ubiquitous developer dropped off Baltimore's radar, the urban visionary has reappeared as a managing director of a new company, working on the same kinds of projects that helped make his name.

Struever is one of the founders of Cross Street Partners, a real estate venture made up of 28 employees who all once worked for Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse, the company that changed Baltimore's landscape and that of other East Coast cities before coming apart in the throes of the recession, leaving a trail of lawsuits and unfinished developments.

Struever's re-emergence on the Baltimore development scene is being hailed by civic leaders who hope to see revitalization in Baltimore pick up as the economy improves — and to see Struever play a role.

"He's certainly one of the great citizens of Baltimore and one of the people most dedicated to making the city a better place, and one of the most imaginative," said Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the nonprofit Abell Foundation. "The fact that he is at work and involved with the city is a great plus for Baltimore."

But Struever's resurgence was not welcomed by everyone, as the collapse of Struever Bros. left many contractors and subcontractors, not to mention banks and others, unpaid.

This month, a judge in Providence, R.I., appointed a special master to sell Paragon Mills, a Struever Bros. project left unfinished. Joseph J. Reale Jr., a Providence attorney who represents some of the contractors who filed mechanics liens against Struever for unpaid work, estimated that subcontractors are owed more than $1 million for labor and materials.

Reale said nonpayment by Struever has been "a significant hardship." Told that Struever was part of a new business, Reale said it "didn't seem fair" that projects are moving ahead with Struever's involvement when many contractors and subcontractors are still awaiting payment.

For many years, Struever was a fixture on the local development scene, advocating innovative ways to take advantage of Baltimore's waterfront, investing in the Urbanite magazine and offering ideas in public forums. It was Struever who pushed for the creation of the Downtown Partnership and the Waterfront Partnership. It was Struever and designer Alex Castro who put a winking Mr. Boh sign atop the former National Bohemian brewery. And it is Struever who has tried to save Fort Carroll, the Civil War fortress in the Patapsco River.

During the depths of the recession, in late 2008 and 2009, Struever dropped out of public view. He said at the time that he was keeping a low profile because he was concentrating on paying off debts and not launching any new developments.

But in recent months, Struever has become visible again, participating in such events as a waterfront planning conference in November, where he took part in a session on completing Baltimore's shoreline promenade. And in December, he met with Urban Land Institute experts seeking ways to revitalize downtown's west side.

"We're still throwing out a million ideas, just in a different way," Struever said during a recent interview at the new company's offices, housed in a renovated 1929 industrial structure at Tide Point called the Trestle Building.

He declined to answer questions about the status of Struever Bros. or respond to his critics, preferring instead to discuss Cross Street. The new venture is "all about being of service to others," Struever said.

"I want to be useful in any way I can," he said. "That's my goal in life: to be useful."

Familiar portfolio

Launched quietly last May and just beginning to draw attention, Cross Street is working locally in many of the same areas — and on many of the same projects — where Struever Bros. made its mark, including Canton, Locust Point and Harbor East.

The scope of Cross Street's activities is in many ways similar to that of Struever Bros. — from project planning and general contracting to marketing, property management and tax credit consulting. Cross Street now manages some of the projects Struever originally developed or renovated, including Belvedere Square in North Baltimore, the Can Company in Canton and Tide Point in South Baltimore.

But Cross Street is by no means a clone of Struever's earlier venture. While Struever Bros. owned many of the projects it built, Cross Street Partners does not intend to own real estate, at least initially. Instead, it is using a fee-for-service model, working to manage, develop or reposition properties owned by others.

Cross Street's partners say that instead of creating a portfolio of successful buildings, the company's goal is to create a portfolio of successful clients.

The new arrangement allows Cross Street to stay lean and nimble, assembling teams of experts to work on specific projects. Before the recession hit, Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse employed as many as 367 people.