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Plan presented for west side's 'super block'


Two Washington developers want to revamp a large swath of downtown Baltimore's west side with 600 new apartments and a mix of national chain and local shops at street level.

Their $150 million plan for the 3.6-acre "super block" along the faded Lexington Street pedestrian mall appears to be the boldest idea for the area received by the city.

Other developers propose redoing smaller portions of the area. The Washington team says it could join them while keeping existing merchants in place.

It's up to Baltimore Development Corp., the city's quasi-public development arm, to approve or reject the idea. The area includes 51 properties, and the city owns the buildings or has the power to buy them under the eminent domain law.

BDC spokeswoman Joann Logan said the agency had no comment on any of the proposals. But advocates for the hard-luck part of downtown are increasingly optimistic about a resurgence west of Charles Center.

The $62 million Hippodrome Theatre opened last month, and Bank of America is moving ahead on its $80 million Centerpoint shops and apartment complex. The Atrium apartments in the former Hecht's building are nearly full.

"With the successful opening of the Hippodrome, the time for this area is now," said Ronald M. Kreitner, executive director of WestSide Renaissance Inc.

The super block area is bounded by Fayette, Liberty, Howard and Clay streets, and takes in the south side of the Lexington Street mall. One site not open to developers is the Greyhound bus terminal on Fayette; it will be razed for a parking garage.

The two Washington developers are Federal Development LLC and CSG Urban Partners.

The federal government recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Federal Development to turn the campus of the Fort Howard Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Baltimore County into a $100 million care facility for veterans, with apartments, waterfront homes, a marina and shops.

CSG is relatively new. Its three principals used to work at National Capital Revitalization Corp., a publicly chartered corporation that aims to revitalize poor neighborhoods in Washington, according to the Washington Business Journal.

Their joint Baltimore proposal would involve a mix of new construction and renovation of older buildings. John Infantino, Federal's chief executive, said it would respect a 2000 pact between preservationists and Mayor Martin O'Malley that derailed a development plan by the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.

"We see the opportunity to create a series of mini-villages or neighborhoods within the overall super block development," Infantino said. "There's a series of different buildings with different character and different heights that really talks about the scale of what Baltimore is all about."

The $150 million would come from a combination of banks, historic tax credits and city assistance such as property tax breaks, he said.

Carmel Realty Associates of Philadelphia proposes to redo just the southeast corner of Howard and Lexington. It envisions 40 apartments above shops and a bistro similar to Panera Bread.

Infantino said Carmel's plan would fit with the larger redevelopment scheme. In addition, 10 existing merchants have submitted plans for their locations. John C. Murphy, a lawyer for the 10 merchants, said they "are accomplishing exactly what BDC wants to be done - to have the west side revived."

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