WHEN Belvedere Square opened with great fanfare in 1986, north Baltimore's well-to-do but underserved neighborhoods got what they had long wanted - a village-type shopping center of food purveyors, restaurants, boutiques and offices.
The dream soon turned into a disappointment, then a nightmare. Today, the retail failures at York Road and Belvedere Avenue are among the saddest and most mystifying in the city.
How did Belvedere Square deteriorate into a mostly vacant eyesore at a time when the surrounding residential city and county neighborhoods are booming?
There is a two-word explanation: James Ward.
He is the developer who came up with the original village but overextended himself financially, ultimately moved to Florida and let Belvedere Square run to ruin.
The Schmoke administration unwittingly aided and abetted the absentee landlord by forgiving a $1.7 million government loan. That act removed much of the city's leverage over the property.
The recent closing of Chili's Grill & Bar, one of the original tenants with seven years remaining on its lease, proves that new, more responsible ownership is urgently needed to revive Belvedere Square.
Although Mr. Ward still talks a good game, he has lost all credibility with neighbors who are adversely affected by the shopping center's decay.
Mayor Martin O'Malley's administration would be foolish to fall for Mr. Ward's blarney that ties revitalization to controversial rezoning requests.
The phenomenal success of the Mount Washington Mill shopping center shows that Mr. Ward's original concept is a viable one and should be tried once more. The turnaround of York Road Plaza, just across the county line, demonstrates the area's buying power.
Mr. Ward wants "big box" retailers at Belvedere Square. Yet just a few blocks away, the "big box" of the former Caldor's stands empty.
The city should not sacrifice the stability of residential neighborhoods to make allowances for Mr. Ward's ineptitude.