All aboard

The Baltimore Sun

When lawyer Robert A. Sapero gets hold of a property, there's no letting go. At least that's how he has treated the Chesapeake Restaurant, the long-shuttered eatery at North Charles and Lanvale streets that the city has tried to buy more than once from him and then seize unsuccessfully through condemnation. Mr. Sapero has held out, until now. He may have been covetous or just plain obstinate, but his recent change of heart about selling the cluster of rowhouses that include the former restaurant should reinvigorate efforts to revitalize the area. With the right project, it could be the perfect anchor for the Station North Arts District.

The Baltimore Development Corp.'s purchase of the property from Mr. Sapero hasn't yet made its way to the Board of Estimates, but the board should swiftly approve it. It's been too long in coming. Mr. Sapero bought the Chesapeake Restaurant 18 years ago at auction, according to the BDC. It's been empty even as neighboring businesses changed and improved their properties and the 1700 block of N. Charles evolved into a happening place for film buffs and tapas-lovers. The Charles Theatre, Tapas Teatro and other small restaurants in the block attract a steady clientele for an evening's entertainment in a great location, just blocks from the University of Baltimore and just north of Penn Station.

Efforts by BDC to promote development in the area have been stymied by Mr. Sapero's refusal to sell and a court's refusal to make him give up the property to the city. There is so much potential in the area, what with new loft apartments available in a renovated warehouse across from the train station and new condominiums within a couple of blocks walk. A development team selected by BDC several years ago had proposed building a $40 million to $50 million shopping, retail and condominium complex there. The scope of the project may need to change because of the depressed housing market, but a success there could migrate up to and across North Avenue and into lower Charles Village. Mr. Sapero may have been stubborn, but his investment sense is going to pay off for him and bring dividends for the city.

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