With no fanfare, construction crews have begun overhauling aging and neglected Belvedere Square in North Baltimore.
The 103,000-square-foot shopping and office complex at Northern Parkway and York Road was built in 1986 and became a jewel of the area with three dozen shops, restaurants and offices. But in recent years it has fallen into disrepair, and it is less than one-third leased.
Supporters are betting that the $14 million overhaul will result in a renewed economic anchor for the area, which includes the Senator Theatre.
Teaming up are four of the area's biggest names in development: Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse Inc., Williams Jackson Ewing Inc., Hawkins Development Group and Manekin LLC. The city and state put a total of $4 million toward the project.
The construction work, though a noisy inconvenience, is welcomed by remaining tenants.
Greg Novik, owner of Greg's Bagels with his wife, Kathy, has been in business at Belvedere Square for more than 13 years.
"When the center opened, it was very successful," Novik said. "As stores have closed over time, there has been less and less reason for people to come here. But we're in the middle of a great demographic, and we figured sooner or later it had to come back."
Loyal customers have kept him busy despite the construction. A steady stream came for pizza bagels, meats and smoked fish yesterday despite the cranes and workers ripping up Belvedere Avenue in front of the shop.
The developers are seeking to make the complex of five buildings at Belvedere Square more convenient for pedestrians. They plan improved roads, parking, sidewalks, landscaping and lighting.
Stores are planned on the street level and offices on the second floor.
Some of the interiors will be demolished and rebuilt. Existing tenants will remain in their current locations.
A food market will be renovated for 12 vendors. Developers plan a bakery, a seafood stall and raw bar, a deli, a natural foods store and a flower shop. The group is seeking another family restaurant for the former Chili's site.
No new retailers have signed leases, but Loyola College has signed to use 10,000 square feet of vacant space for student clinical offices.
The construction crews will work around the existing tenants, going inside the shops at night to minimize disruptions to owners and customers, said Craig Wess, a senior vice president and director of construction for Manekin. Work began in earnest a few weeks ago.
"It's a fairly major project," he said. "It's been neglected a long time. ... If you go out there today and see Belvedere Avenue all torn up, it doesn't look too pedestrian-friendly. But I think everyone is happy to see something happening there."
The work is to be completed next year.