Is Glendening using Hippodrome as pawn?; Downtown: Howard Street renewal moves ahead even as old theater's planning money is delayed.


IS THE restoration of Baltimore's Hippodrome Theater in trouble -- or just a pawn that Gov. Parris N. Glendening keeps using against antagonists like Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke?

Late last month, the governor withheld a $1.8 million capital budget allocation for planning the Hippodrome's transformation into a performing arts center. Citing "unanswered questions," the governor asked for firmer cost figures and details about city plans to revitalize the vicinity of the theater at Eutaw and Fayette streets.

The governor's concerns are not unreasonable; his delay not uncharacteristic. A year ago, he similarly did not include a $1.7 million Hippodrome planning appropriation in his spending proposal.

By April, though, the money was in the supplemental budget. Re-election politics accounted for those maneuvers; this time, the governor may be chastening Mr. Schmoke and others who failed to back his winning campaign.

While the Hippodrome is held up, plenty of good news remains.

The Weinberg Foundation has formally submitted a $71 million proposal to rehabilitate the landmark Stewart's department store building -- four blocks from the Hippodrome -- into high-tech offices and to build apartments, retail space and a parking garage. This would give instant credibility to revitalization plans in the Howard Street corridor, an unfulfilled goal of city administrations for three decades.

Other action is bubbling around the Hippodrome as well:

The old Hecht Co. parking garage, diagonally opposite the Hippodrome, is to be renovated as part of a plan to convert the former department store into apartments.

A 151-unit apartment addition is being built atop a parking garage on Eutaw Street, two blocks south of the theater.

Along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, five blocks away, a $73 million townhouse development is nearly complete at the site of the old Lexington Terrace public housing project. It will have a business center and stores.

More is coming: The University System of Maryland is close to acquiring most of the block facing the Hippodrome complex on the north side of Fayette Street. It is also in talks to buy both sides of the 400 block of W. Baltimore St., which abuts the Hippodrome.

A firm state commitment to rehabilitate the Hippodrome would accelerate private investment in the area. It could produce big dividends by improving Baltimore's economic health and livability.

Pub Date: 2/05/99

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