Garage deal gets OK from board


The Board of Estimates approved a deal yesterday for a multilevel parking garage at East Pratt and President streets that would be partly financed with $8 million in city parking revenue bonds.

As part of the deal, the board approved the $750,000 sale of city property at the intersection to Gould Property Co., which plans to build a 486-space garage. The site, between the Inner Harbor and Little Italy, includes the city land and a privately owned parcel.

The deal did not get the board's unanimous support, even though parking is sorely needed in Little Italy and across President Street in downtown Baltimore.

Comptroller Joan M. Pratt said she voted against the proposal because the city did not get fair market value for the property. The most recent assessment put the property's worth at about $1.3 million.

"I just don't think the city is in a position to give away $575,000," said Pratt, referring to the difference between the appraisal and the selling price. "I have a problem with giving away a city asset."

In response to Pratt's complaint, M. J. "Jay" Brodie, president of Baltimore Development Corp., asked the board to consider the garage's long-term benefits. He said the garage will bring jobs and economic development to the area as well as increased tax revenues to the city.

The land brings in $44,000 a year in taxes. Brodie said the $12.1 million project will contribute $209,100 in property and parking taxes each year. That means the city will recoup the difference in about three years, he said."That's pretty good. I mean, compared to the hotel deals we've seen," Mayor Martin O'Malley said after hearing Brodie's argument. "And that garage is needed."

Each year, more than 1 million people visit Little Italy, where parking is at a premium.

"Part of the complaints we were hearing from the people who live there was that the restaurants were taking all of the parking spaces and we can't park near our house," said Brodie, who called the deal "good news for the city."

Over the past decade, other developers have tried and failed to build a parking garage on the lot. The current proposal has been in the works since December 1998. BDC, the city's quasi-public development agency, brokered the deal.

"This is not your ordinary, stripped-down garage," Brodie told board members. "This is a garage that the city and the people of Little Italy see as a gateway to their community."

The land includes the old Pastore's warehouse with its hand-painted "Welcome to Little Italy" sign. The proposed garage went through several design changes before being approved by all parties. The local restaurant association insisted that the retail floor not have any restaurants.

Developers said yesterday they are considering businesses such as a small grocery store and dry cleaners for the retail space. Construction is expected to begin next month.

In addition to relieving the parking shortage in Little Italy, the garage also will provide parking for people who work at the nearby Candler Building and for visitors to the Maryland Museum of African-American History and Culture, said Brodie. Plans for the museum did not allow for any parking.

"We hope this is the first of many garages that resolves the downtown parking problem," Brodie said.

The City Council is considering a bill to establish a Parking Authority that would coordinate the development and management of city parking. The council is expected to vote on the bill July 10.

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