With a pending deal for the city's acquisition of a key corner parcel, long-delayed plans to redevelop a stretch of Charles Street just north of Penn Station are poised to move forward, though the real estate slowdown might force revisions in a more than two-year-old proposal, a city development official said yesterday.
Baltimore Development Corp. has reached an agreement to buy the long-shuttered Chesapeake Restaurant in the 1700 block of N. Charles St. for an undisclosed amount from owner Robert A. Sapero, said Paul Dombrowski, director of planning and design for BDC, ending the city's effort to condemn the property. The sale requires approval of the city's Board of Estimates.
"This is very significant," Dombrowski said. "If we get approval, we can move forward on that site. That really is a very prominent and important site in need of redevelopment in order to get the Charles North area moving forward. ... It's been vacant a long time."
The BDC selected Station North Development Partners LLC in 2005 to build Chesapeake Square - then proposed as an estimated $40 million to $50 million project with shops, restaurants, an art gallery, subsidized artists' lofts, a 91-unit condominium tower and 11 townhouses.
But the ensuing fight with Sapero, which reached the state's highest court, meant the BDC was unable to begin negotiations with the team, made up of Tower Hill Development & Consulting LLC; Michael and Alan Schecter, the owners of buildings on the block; Florida-based developer The Miller Group and Stephen A. Masciola.
Members of the team could not be reached yesterday, but Dombrowski said the developers were still interested, though some revisions might be necessary.
"I'm sure there will be a thorough re-examination of the proposal. It wouldn't surprise me to see some adjustments in the original proposed program," Dombrowski said.
Yesterday Sapero, who had successfully challenged the city's attempt to acquire his property through a speedy "quick take," said he had been prepared to continue contesting any condemnation.
"I was inclined to go the distance, and at that point they became conciliatory," said Sapero, who described the undisclosed price as "adequate."
The city still expects to see a mixed-use development with street-level retail and a residential component, Dombrowski said. In a neighborhood targeted for urban renewal, the city has hoped the project - on the same block with popular restaurants and the Charles Theatre - will spur continuing revitalization in the neighborhood between Penn Station and Charles Village.
Such a project would fit in with the new vision for Charles North being studied by a team of BDC-hired architects and land planners working on a development plan to encourage private investment.
Ideas that have been floated so far include a hotel and shopping arcade connected to Penn Station, several blocks for small shops and artists' studios, and residential towers that would incorporate street-level commercial space and live-work units.
A separate proposal by Bethesda-based Hospitality Partners to open a 77-room boutique hotel inside Penn Station is pending, and will be submitted for approval to Amtrak's board of directors, said Tracy Connell, an Amtrak spokeswoman.
The Inn at Penn Station, which would be the only U.S. hotel in an active railroad station, could open by the third quarter of next year, said Michael Dickens, president of Hospitality Partners.
"We're convinced the neighborhood will continue to improve, and we're reaching a point where the neighborhood alone will be sufficient to support the hotel," he said.