Apartments, stores planned at site of old Annapolis theater

The owner of the Eastport Plaza shopping center in Annapolis and a development team from Baltimore plan to build a $45 million, 200-unit apartment complex at the site of the neighborhood’s former theater.

Plans call for a seven-story complex with a mix of apartments and small stores, said Dan Lederberg, general manager of L&L; Investments LLC.

In 1961, Lederberg’s grandfather, Charles Liff, built the shopping center at the nearly 7-acre site off Bay Ridge Avenue. The family has retained ownership and Lederberg manages the shopping center through the company Eastport Plaza LLC.

The shopping center — at the intersection of Bay Ridge and Chesapeake avenues — saw its Crown Eastport Art 2 cinema close in 2004. A longtime Mobil gas station was demolished in 2007, a Thriftway closed in 1997 and the Eastport Market closed in 1999.

Over the last decade, Lederberg unsuccessfully attempted to woo Harris Teeter and another grocery store to fill the former movie theater space. Now he’s turning to Solstice Partners, a pair of Baltimore developers, to take over the site.

“There’s demand for apartment units in Annapolis,” Lederberg said. “This affords the opportunity to do something in the city.”

Lederberg and Solstice Partners — a group led by Alex Kopicki and Jeff Jacobson — say plans for Eastport Plaza are preliminary. The developers, who are scheduled to appear July 3 before the Planning Commission, shared their plans with Eastport’s civic and business associations on May 12.

Apartments would sit above nearly 14,000 square feet of high-end, first-floor retail space. Residential rental units would average between 800 and 900 square feet, Jacobson said.

Initial plans show six stories at the front of the complex and seven at the back, Lederberg said. Parking, he said, would be mostly underneath the complex, which would be designed like a pier, in a nod to Eastport’s maritime heritage.

Solstice Partners declined to share an initial rendering.

Development would take place on the 1.6-acre site of the gas station and now-vacant movie theater. Construction could start as early as spring 2015 and likely take 18 months, Jacobson said.

The developers envision the complex as a place where people working in Baltimore or Washington, D.C., can come home, leave their car and enjoy Eastport.

“Right now, there’s really no reason to walk past Chesapeake Avenue around the corner,” Jacobson said.

The complex could add 400 people to city tax rolls, Lederberg said.

“You walk to the Boatyard (Bar & Grill), you walk to Davis’ Pub. You have amenities there that don’t absolutely require you to take your car,” he said. “The only other alternative is to keep moving out to the suburbs, keep building further and further out.”

This would be Solstice Partners’ first project in Annapolis. The three-year-old firm is working on a similar mixed-use development in Baltimore’s Locust Point. While Locust Point once had more industry than Eastport, both are waterfront neighborhoods.

An Annapolis development was first discussed two years ago, when Solstice Partners was introduced to Lederberg.

Public opinion of the project remains unclear. The Department of Planning and Zoning has not received plans for the site, according to Sally Nash, the department’s acting director.

Jenny Kottler, president of the Eastport Civic Association, could not be reached for comment.

Alderman Ross Arnett, D-Ward 8, who represents Eastport on the City Council, declined to comment.

Mike Tomasini, president of the Eastport Business Association, said he supports the project. But Tomasini admitted some bias is inevitable, as Lederberg is the vice president of the business association.

Two-hundred apartment units will bring new residents and families to Eastport, Tomasini said, while adding customers for the area’s stores and restaurants.

“In order to stay alive, you need to bring in new people, which is not always easy on the business side,” he said.

Apartments, Lederberg said, would bring customers to stores already at Eastport Plaza. Lederberg, whose company also owns Eastport Liquors, said the complex would not infringe on other businesses, with the possible exception of Adam’s Ribs.

That well-known Eastport restaurant would likely be included in the complex’s retail space if the project encroaches on its space, Lederberg said.

Brian Toomey, president of Adam’s Ribs, hopes that’s the case. The lack of a tenant at the former movie theater has delayed needed improvements for the restaurant, Toomey said.

Lederberg is “telling us he will take care us,” Toomey said. “Hopefully, that happens.”

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