NOW THAT city and state officials have found a way to reopen the entire length of Howard Street to automobile traffic, they could help revitalize the corridor even more by moving ahead with another long-awaited project: construction of artists' housing.
Nearly a year has passed since Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke dubbed Howard Street the "Avenue of the Arts," and a nonprofit group affiliated with the city sought proposals from developers who wanted to build apartments and galleries that could provide the beginning of a self-sufficient arts community.
Last November, the Howard Street Artists Housing Corp. said it was committed to "a rapid developer selection process" and envisioned choosing one group "within 60 days of receipt of the proposals."
It already had identified the properties to recycle -- eight underused buildings on the west side of the 400 block of N. Howard St., near the Mayfair Theater and the old Kernan Hotel.
The buildings "offer excellent opportunities to meet the unique needs of artists from a range of creative disciplines," the housing corporation said in its pitch to developers.
"Floor sizes are large and uninterrupted; oversized window openings allow for ample light and air. . . . Equally important, the existing buildings offer a sense of character and history not typically found in new construction."
The deadline for bids was Dec. 15, making Feb. 15 the target date for selecting a developer. But nearly seven months later, the city still has not officially named a developer for the project, even though three groups put in bids.
The bidders were groups headed by RAR Associates Development Corp. of North Beach, in Calvert County, Baldwin Development Corp. of Baltimore and Bacon & Co. with Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, both of Baltimore.
Sharon Grinnell, project manager for Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development agency, said Schmoke is expected to announce a developer this month.
Although she declined to say which group may be selected, Baltimore Development officials voted this year to negotiate exclusively with RAR Associates -- a sign that it is likely to be named as the developer.
The group is headed by Ron Russo, a developer with extensive experience with rehabilitation and reuse of older buildings. His past projects include 69 residences and shops in new and rehabilitated buildings in the Seton Hill area, housing and offices along Montgomery, Light and Hanover streets in south Baltimore, and housing and offices in North Beach.
RAR's proposal for Howard Street calls for the creation of 57 residences and eight street-level commercial spaces at a cost of about $5 million. The residences would be designed to operate as a "rental / cooperative community," with Frederick Realty as the property manager. David H. Gleason and Associates would be the architect, and RAR would be the general contractor.
The properties to be fixed up include 400, 402, 408, 410, 412, 414, 418-20, and 422-24 N. Howard St. If his team is selected, Russo said in his proposal, he will begin some construction immediately to bring life to the block. "Our objective is to rebuild a community -- not just buildings," he said.
Schmoke named Howard Street the "Avenue of the Arts" in a ceremony Oct. 23, 1995. This week, city and state officials ended a nearly decadelong ban of autos on portions of Howard Street when they reopened one lane from Baltimore Street to Saratoga Street to northbound autos.
The plans to build artists' housing and reopen Howard Street to auto traffic were contained in the Howard Street Task Force Report, a series of short- and long-term recommendations developed by a citizens' group formed by Schmoke in August 1994.
Pub Date: 9/12/96