If everything had gone as planned, there would already be apartments in the old Bagby Furniture Co. building near Little Italy. Instead the 93-year-old warehouse sits idle while the neighborhood and the developer argue over who said what to whom. It's time to move on so this project can be completed and enhance the community.
Henrietta Corp. developer Patrick Turner announced the renovation plans for the Bagby building in 1993. He said the seven efficiencies, 16 one-bedroom and 33 two-bedroom apartments would be rented at prices ranging from $600 to $1,200 a month. Little Italy residents were pleased that the proposal would bring higher-income residents to the area.
Mr. Turner, however, could not get all the financing for the $5 million project from the private sector. In 1994, he sought loans from both the city and the state. But those loans required that he set aside at least 10 apartments for low-income residents. He says he told people in Little Italy what was happening. But he never formally told the community, which he should have done through the Little Italy Community Organization.
Rumors began to circulate that the Bagby building was being renovated as subsidized housing. To some Little Italy residents that could only mean one thing, a smaller version of the Flag House Court housing project already adjacent to the neighborhood. Previously unheard criticism that the Bagby proposal would create traffic and parking problems was suddenly shouted by Little Italy residents.
The city Board of Estimates delayed a decision on Mr. Turner's loan request. It was hoped that the delay would lead to a settling of differences between him and the neighborhood. Instead LICO filed four suits to stop the project and Mr. Turner counter-sued Little Italy for stalling his proposal and creating additional costs for the project.
It's time all the fighting stopped. A circuit judge has dismissed the Little Italy suits. Henrietta Corp. should drop its litigation as well. The only people benefiting from a continuation of this argument in the courts will be attorneys earning legal fees.
With their big rooms and higher ceilings, apartments in the Bagby building could be competitive alternatives to the apartments included in the proposed Sylvan Learning Center complex between Fells Point and the Inner Harbor. The 10 apartments for low-income residents in the Bagby will be no different from its other apartments. Everyone involved should want to see this project successfully completed so it gives Little Italy a lift.