City agency may seek pact with foundation; Profit-sharing studied on downtown project


Baltimore's economic development agency may seek a profit-sharing agreement with a foundation proposing to build 345 apartments, dozens of stores and a multiscreen theater on the west side of downtown.

The Baltimore Development Corp. is also studying whether the city should grant tax breaks, known as payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT), to help the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation build a housing and office complex near North Howard and West Lexington streets, said M. J. Brodie, director of the development agency.

"Not everybody who asks for a PILOT gets one," Brodie said last night during the first meeting of an advisory committee on the city's efforts to revitalize the west side of downtown.

"The foundation's view is that a PILOT, or some other form of tax relief, is necessary to make this project work financially, but that is still to be seen," said Brodie.

The negotiations over the redevelopment of the six-block area bounded by Clay, Fayette, Liberty and Howard streets is the first part of an effort by the city to get hundreds of new apartments and shops in the project area.

The Weinberg Foundation is working with Grid Properties of New York City on a proposal to convert the old Stewart's department store at Howard and Lexington streets into offices for telemarketing or technology firms.

The foundation also wants to build two garages with 960 parking spaces, 234,000 square feet of stores, a movie theater and park with fountains, according to a proposal released this week. The project would include renovating several old stores, including 215 W. Lexington St. and 117 N. Howard St., and the demolition of others.

David Stein, director of real estate for the foundation, said last night that he could not comment on whether Weinberg might be willing to enter into a profit-sharing agreement with the city.

The foundation's proposal May 19 to rebuild the struggling six-block area said that the group will ask the city for a tax abatement or payment-in-lieu of taxes. The foundation owns almost half the buildings in the area.

Legislation passed by the General Assembly in the spring to allow tax breaks to encourage economic development would require the foundation to continue paying real estate taxes on the properties at their current levels plus 5 percent, Brodie said.

If the foundation receives a tax break, it would not have to pay taxes based on the higher values the properties would have with new shops and apartments.

"The city wouldn't be losing any of its existing tax dollars," Brodie said. "It isn't a free lunch."

The advisory group, the Project Area Committee, will be reviewing development plans for the revitalization project.

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