West-side plan includes apartments, shops, new parks, light rail

The rebuilt west side of downtown Baltimore would feature restored century-old buildings, three parks and a rail line along Baltimore and Fayette streets in a plan unveiled yesterday by Mayor Martin O'Malley.

The 56-page "West Side Strategic Plan" was released as the city is trying to persuade the state to give it $50 million over five years to help buy run-down buildings for renovation.


"This is an exciting project, and it is getting national attention. We are investing in a historic part of downtown and its great architecture," O'Malley said at a news conference at the former Hecht Co. department store at Howard and Lexington streets. The building is being renovated into a $20 million apartment complex.

O'Malley said that the roughly $9 million spent so far to relocate merchants and buy property will be more than paid back by taxes generated from the 18-block, $300 million redevelopment.


When the project is completed in 2006, the city hopes it will bring in $17 million in taxes a year for the city and create at least 8,500 jobs, according to the $45,000 plan written by the Baltimore-based Design Collective.

The rebuilt area might include 2,500 apartments, almost 2 million square feet of office space, 500,000 square feet of retail and entertainment space, 850 hotel rooms and 5,376 parking spaces, according to the plan.

The proposal discourages demolition and large, suburban-style retail stores. With its emphasis on preservation, the plan differs significantly from the 1998 "West Side Master Plan" proposed by the administration of former Mayor Kurt Schmoke, which permitted the demolition of more than 100 buildings.

O'Malley said relocating some merchants has been difficult. The hardest by far is the proposed move of the El Dorado strip club from 322 W. Baltimore St ot 19-21 S. Gay St. near The Block adult entertainment district.

Some downtown businesses have opposed the new location because it would extend pornographic businesses toward the Inner Harbor. Jewish leaders complained that the strip club would be too close the the Holocaust Memorial.

O'Malley is proposing to lease the city-owned Gay Street building to the El Dorado, which would have an option to buy it in 2013. City officials refuse to disclose the amount of the proposed lease.

The mayor said negotiations are not complete and that the deal might not work out.

The plan for the west side includes the following proposals:


* Creating a "fare free zone" downtown that would allow shoppers and residents to hop on buses and light rail trains free of charge.

* Demolishing the Baltimore Arena and the west building of Lexington Market, and removing a parking lot at Howard and Franklin streets to create three parks.

* Building light-rail lines along Baltimore and Fayette streets that would link the area's new apartments and shops with the Inner Harbor.