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Demolition of 11 old buildings backed by planning commission Alex. Brown says it needs parking structure at site


Despite protests from preservationists and business owners, several historic buildings in the 300 block of E. Baltimore St. are one step closer to being razed to make way for a 375-space parking garage for downtown investment firm Alex. Brown Inc.

The planning commission yesterday recommended the approval of a city council bill that calls for the demolition of 11 buildings -- restaurants, vacant structures, adult video shops and the offices of a 20-year-old law firm. The project is expected to cost $7.5 million.

The matter will return to the City Council for action in early November.

Preservationists and business owners locked arms in a losing battle against investment giant Alex. Brown in an attempt to save their businesses and the buildings built just after the turn of the century.

But the investment firm made sure that the commissioners either gave in or would have to shoulder the blame for the departure of another large downtown business. USF&G; left the area this year.

"Alex. Brown is not interested in another location for the parking garage," said David M. Gillece, a spokesman for the firm. Not getting that location, "we would look elsewhere," he said.

The garage would provide parking for the planned consolidation of 800 employees, dispersed among five downtown office buildings, into Commerce Place on the south side of the 300 block of E. Baltimore St. Company officials say that the firm, founded in Baltimore in 1800, will add another 200 bankers, traders and sales representatives soon.

Yesterday's action upset the current owners.

"This was all a planned 'yes' from the planning commission before we got here," said Larry Corso, part owner of three buildings scheduled to be demolished. He said that he will move his businesses to New Jersey, "since Baltimore doesn't want our business."

The Baltimore Development Corporation will counsel the business owners, pay for their buildings and pay them to relocate. But if the business owners do not want to move, they can take their cases to court.

Baltimore Heritage, a preservationists group that insists the East Baltimore Street buildings should be saved, tried to get the commission to force the Alex. Brown garage onto a vacant lot diagonally from Commerce Place.

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