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$60 million superblock project proposed

The Baltimore Sun

The last big development parcel in Baltimore's superblock project would be filled with 152 new apartments, shops, some offices and a parking garage, under a proposal by a west-side property owner and a former city housing official.

Baltimore Development Corp. said yesterday that it received one proposal for the block of parking lots and vacant buildings bounded by Park Avenue and Clay, Liberty and Lexington streets.

The BDC, the city's development arm, had offered the site for redevelopment in April in hopes of continuing momentum in revitalizing the deteriorated heart of the city's old retail district.

The $60 million project proposed by Cary Luskin and Michael V. Seipp would combine the city-owned properties with the redevelopment of two historic buildings along West Lexington Street.

Luskin is a founder of the Big Screen Store chain and son of the founder of the former Luskin's appliance stores. He owns the historic, now vacant, properties on the site: the former American National Savings and Loan building at Lexington and Liberty streets and a building that most recently housed a Lane Bryant store. Both would be converted to apartments with ground-floor shops, the BDC said.

Seipp has worked in residential development for Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, and, in the 1980s, was a city deputy housing commissioner.

The developers, who submitted the proposal as American National LLC, also would build a 13-story building on what is now a parking lot, The building would have a six-story garage topped by seven floors of apartments. An eight-story building, a mix of housing and ground-floor shops, would be built at Lexington Street and Park Avenue and connect to the parking garage.

The BDC is reviewing the proposal and expects to make a decision in the next couple of months, said M.J. "Jay" Brodie, BDC president.

"This is a highly visible site from Charles Center, across Liberty Street, so it's more important than just the size of it because of its location," Brodie said. "The improvement of this is important for people's perception of the west side. It's going to fill in this last gap of the superblock."

Most of the superblock area, a site assembled by the city to bring workers, residents and shoppers back to the decaying area, is being revitalized by two developers in separate projects.

Lexington Square Partners LLC is redeveloping 37 properties into 400 to 500 new market-rate apartments, 200,000 square feet of retail space and parking in an area bounded by Howard, West Lexington, Liberty and West Fayette streets.

Baltimore's Cordish Co. and the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation Inc., a Baltimore charity, plan at least 70,000 square feet of offices, apartments, shops, restaurants and parking on the north side of Lexington Street between Howard Street and Park Avenue.

According to preliminary plans released yesterday for Liberty-Clay, American National hopes to build 152 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, nearly 16,000 square feet of shops, about 7,400 square feet of offices and 316 parking spaces. Seipp said it could take about three years to complete the development.

"That site is sort of the nexus between the Charles Street corridor ... and the west side," said Seipp, executive director of the nonprofit Baltimore Station substance abuse program.

"Right now, it's almost no man's land. We view the development we've proposed as a bridge to the west side. Over the next 10 years, we're going to continue to see downtown Baltimore become much more residential."

The BDC had offered the site as part of its 2003 request for proposals for the entire superblock. But the site failed to draw strong proposals and was never awarded for redevelopment.

"It's encouraging that there's a proposal for significant residential development, along with ground-floor retail and parking," said Ronald M. Kreitner, executive director of WestSide Renaissance Inc.

"There's definitely a need and an opportunity to do more residential development."

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