Businessman's dream of 'design district' deferred


A businessman has abandoned his dream of turning the intersection of North Avenue and Howard Street into a full-fledged "design district," but he's not giving up on his idea altogether.

Gus Diakoulas, head of the Baltimore Design Resource Center at 200 W. North Ave., said he sold the three-story structure last month to a Timonium businessman who is converting it to a state office building.

Maryland's Department of General Services recently leased the building (once a showroom for Oriole Pontiac Co.) for use starting next month as the administrative headquarters of the Child Protective Services division of Baltimore's Department of Social Services, a state-funded agency.

The agency's relocation from 312 E. Oliver St. will bring 300 employees to the area, a move that is expected to provide a boost for retailers there.

The protective services agency receives and investigates complaints of child abuse and child neglect throughout the city.

Mr. Diakoulas said he is "still going to fight" to create a design resource center, a concept on which he has been working for the past eight years.

"It may not be here," he said, referring to the North Avenue location. "It may be somewhere else. But I still think it's a good idea."

The Design Resource Center was conceived as a one-stop shop bringing architects and interior designers together under one roof with the manufacturers that serve them and the products and goods they provide.

After renovating the former car showroom for use by a variety of design-oriented businesses, Mr. Diakoulas announced plans last year to expand into nearby buildings if the city Housing Department would sell him a 52,000-square-foot tract at Howard and 21st streets for customer parking and a day-care center.

Instead, the city awarded the Howard Street property to the Triple C Real Estate Development Corp., a group of business operators who proposed to build a discount retail operation and an international food store. The Triple C group later abandoned its plans.

Mr. Diakoulas said the city's decision to award the land to another group put an end to his expansion plans at North Avenue and Howard Street, and that the tenants there have all either relocated or made plans to move out.

He said he sold the building in July to How-Nor Limited Partnership, a group headed by Timonium businessman Angelo Munafo, and that Mr. Munafo's partnership will serve as the landlord for the social services agency.

General Services Department spokesman Joseph Harrison said the state Board of Public Works has approved a plan to lease 43,000 square feet of space in the 48,000-square-foot building from How-Nor Limited Partnership. The lease also includes 107 parking spaces, Mr. Harrison said.

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