Mayor to seek new 'Superblock' bids this fall

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Wednesday that she intends to seek new proposals to develop the long-stalled "Superblock" before year's end.

"My plan is for the [request for proposals] to be issued this fall," she said. "We're exploring ways to attract a diverse group of developers when it's offered for redevelopment."

Rawlings-Blake declined this week to grant another extension to the developers of the project on the city's west side, putting the future of the ambitious plan in jeopardy. Lexington Square Partners LLC has until week's end to come up with financing for the $152 million project or it will lose exclusive land-use rights to the property. The development group has acknowledged it will not be able to meet the deadline, which was set six months ago, the mayor said.

"Lexington Square was a good partner and certainly stayed the course through lawsuits, through numerous reviews ... but ultimately fell short in meeting the conditions that were necessary to close on the project," she said.

"It was a difficult decision," said Brenda McKenzie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's quasi-public development arm. "It's obvious the developer spent a fair amount of time on the project. They just have not been able to get the project to the place where they can get financing for it."

Harold Dawson Jr., a representative of Lexington Square Partners, did not respond to requests for comment.

In April 2012, Maryland's Court of Appeals cleared the way for the city to move forward with the project by dismissing a lawsuit filed by Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, who argued that the plan failed to preserve historic buildings.

In December, the city's Board of Estimates approved a six-month extension of the land disposition agreement with Lexington Square Partners. That amendment gave the partnership until June 30 to purchase 3.6 acres from the city for the mixed-use development.

At the time, Lexington Square Partners told city officials "that this extension will be the last one that is necessary in order to secure financing for the project," according to Board of Estimates records. The partners said they would be able to secure a construction loan once a $22.1 million tax break for the development was approved by the City Council. The tax break was granted in December.

The development would be bounded roughly by Lexington, Howard and Fayette streets and Park Avenue. Under the current plan, It would have about 300 apartments, more than 200,000 square feet of retail space and a parking garage for 650 vehicles.

Rawlings-Blake said she's considering whether to break up the site — which spans several city blocks — into multiple bids or keep it as one larger plan.

"Whether it's going to be the same scale or smaller, it's too early to tell," she said.

Christopher B. Summers, president of the Maryland Public Policy Institute, said the mayor was wise to change directions on the development, given that lenders do not appear willing to finance it in its current form.

"Obviously, they see a very problematic project down the road," he said. "I applaud the mayor's leadership on this. She obviously knows the writing is on the wall."

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