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Worried about future, Cross Street Market merchants ask for compensation

As the city prepares to turn Cross Street Market over to a private company to redevelop and operate the facility, merchants who will be displaced by the project are seeking compensation.

Towson-based Caves Valley Partners is slated to take over the market in January and begin $6.5 million redevelopment this spring. The construction could last about 10 months, developer Arsh Mirmiran said in November, when the deal was announced after months of negotiation.

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The redevelopment will mean disruption and lost business for the market's existing merchants, even for those who eventually return, said attorney John C. Murphy, who is representing the Cross Street Market Merchants Association.

"If it's a public good to have a better market, that's fine," he said. "The people involved shouldn't suffer."

Murphy sent a letter to Mayor Catherine E. Pugh on Thursday seeking relocation compensation for the businesses, which he said employ about 70 people.

Murphy said relocation compensation can be "substantial" but is standard procedure when a public entity acquires property for redevelopment plans.

In this case, the city already owns the property and many of the merchants — there were about 18 as of November — are on month-to-month leases.

Mirmiran of Caves Valley Partners said his team has met with the merchants and expects to extend letters of intent to most of them in early January. He said he has offered to offset some of the financial hit as part of new lease negotiations for those interested in returning, he said.

Mirmiran said he was aware of the letter and surprised the merchants had opted to take that step.

"It would be incredibly atypical for compensation to be paid to tenants that don't have term left on their lease," he said. "In our mind, we've been amicable and we've been trying to figure out" a deal.

Pugh spokesman Anthony McCarthy said the city had not received the letter. Robert Thomas, executive director of the Baltimore Public Markets Corp., which oversees the market, could not be reached for comment.

Kirby Fowler, board chair of the Baltimore Public Markets Corp., said the city and markets corporation already planned to help interested merchants find new locations, but any financial assistance — whether from the city or developer — is "unclear" at this point.

The $2 million contribution to the project from the city and public markets corporation comes from bond funds and is intended for physical improvements, he said.

Under the agreement reached with the city, which runs for at least 15 years, the Caves Valley affiliate CSM Ventures starts paying the public markets corporation a minimum monthly rent of $10,000 in January.

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