Condemnation legislation to acquire the ailing Belvedere Square commercial complex from a private owner was unveiled before some 150 North Baltimore residents last night, most of whom welcomed the move by the O'Malley administration.
A bill to take the property, located at York Road and Northern Parkway, from owner James J. Ward III is expected to be introduced in the City Council this fall.
"The city is not interested in losing any more tenants," said Laurie Feinberg, the municipal planner who presented the 15-page document. Currently, about half the 30 storefronts in the 103,500 square foot-complex are empty.
Feinberg added that the city has no interest in becoming the shopping center's next landlord, but hopes to stabilize falling property values in the area and restore a positive business climate by selling the property to a developer.
Mayor Martin O'Malley has blamed the shopping center's failures on "abysmal management."
Response to the measure during the meeting at Govans Presbyterian Church was overwhelmingly positive, with a burst of applause for a woman who praised the city for "getting things together."
Third District Councilman Kenneth Harris Sr. characterized the bill as a "step in the right direction" for the struggling center, which opened in 1986.
Ward was not present at the meeting, but his representative, Alfred W. Barry III, hinted during an interview that a private deal to avoid the property being taken by the city could be "on the horizon."
Barry noted that Ward would be unable to sell the property if the legislation passes.
Victor Brick, co-owner of Lynne Brick's Women's Health & Fitness, which continues to operate in Belvedere Square, was dismayed that the legislation does not guarantee leases for current tenants.
The proposed legislation states: "Businesses displaced because of the requirements of this plan shall be given favorable consideration but not necessarily priority" as future tenants.
One of the problems faced by Belvedere Square is finding businesses that are acceptable to area residents. Ward has said repeatedly that without "big box" retailers such as Old Navy, Belvedere Square has no future.