Baltimore's City Council last week wrapped up legislative work on a proposal revival of the city's retail business center at Howard and Lexington streets - a $200 million project that is one of the most ambitious downtown renewal plans offered in the nation's largest cities.
But Baltimore's business community expressed new concerns that a relatively small retail center in the Inner Harbor complex, within easy walking distance of the current retail center and downtown office buildings, could scare away the needed private investment for the biggest project.
William Boucher III, executive director of the Greater Baltimore Committee, told The Baltimore Sun that his organization will seek City Hall support to block plans of Hutzler Brothers Co., a leading department store firm, to open a branch store in a new bank tower adjacent to the harbor.
"It's not the Hutzler's store solely: it's what will follow," Boucher said, describing the overall 75,000-square-foot retail center planned for a new Equitable Bank building.
The retail center rebuilding program, unveiled earlier this year after three years of study, envisions a partnership of the city government, retail companies and the Greater Baltimore Committee, an organization of top business and financial leaders.
Business in the old retail center has been plummeting at an accelerated rate and there is a virtually unanimous belief that without a broad rehabilitation effort, remaining stores will join Hochschild Kohn and abandon the central city altogether.
As approved by the City Council, a section of 10 square blocks will become an urban renewal area. Nearly $10 million of public spending will come first and, ultimately, public money could underwrite about half the project's cost. The remainder, hopefully, will come from the private sector if developers are convinced that their investment would be worthwhile.