After years of delayed and unfinished renovations at Harborplace, an exodus of vendors and, as of this week, the shopping plaza being placed into receivership, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young says he would rather see the whole thing razed and replaced than continue to flounder.
“I would like to see it really torn down and redone,” Young said at his weekly press briefing this morning. “That would be my preference. But you know, it all costs money.”
He pointed out that the now-former owners, Ashkenazy Acquisitions Corp., “wanted to renovate the whole thing,” and did in fact make some of their promised improvements—albeit while leaving others unfinished. “Still, in my opinion, I would love to see it replaced.”
The mayor said he spoke with Ashkenazy reps last month during city officials’ annual excursion to Las Vegas for the International Council of Shopping Centers RECon retail convention. There, they informed the mayor Harborplace would soon be brought into receivership—with the caveat that “they would still have control over what goes there,” Young said.
For that reason, he said, he was “shocked” when he read on Tuesday that in late May, nearly seven years since Ashkenazy bought the 39-year-old shopping plaza for just shy of $100 million, the New York-based company had lost ownership.
A city circuit court judge on May 30 appointed IVL Group LLC, of New Jersey, to take possession of Harborplace as its receiver, as first reported by the Baltimore Business Journal. The firm is now managing and leasing Harborplace on behalf of Deutsche Bank Trust Co. Americas, the trustee for UBS-Barclays Commercial Mortgage Trust, which holds the mortgage on the property.
IVL Group could also put the property up for sale at this point, if requested by Deutsche Bank Trust.
Deutsche Bank Trust reportedly filed a petition in mid-April alleging Ashkenazy defaulted on its loan after failing to make a payment on March 6, failed to pay a $1.13 million judgment to tenant Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. stemming from a 2018 lawsuit, and failed to pay vendors that maintain the property for months due to insufficient rent collection from tenants.
Ashkenazy had planned to renovate the struggling plaza for years, and began to make improvements last year. But tenants—including M&S Grill, The Fudgery, Five Guys, Urban Outfitters and others—moved out in an exodus amid delays.
Young said that he would love to see it transform into “almost like a little entertainment center” with a more open layout. He referenced the MGM Grand and surrounding new development in Prince George’s County as an example, while arguing the city doesn’t need another anchor tenant given the presence of the National Aquarium and Maryland Science Center.
But he wouldn’t mind some more trappings.
“Those kinds of amenities I would like to see—Ferris wheels and merry go-rounds on the outer part of it,” with more retail and dining options at the plaza.
An executive with Ashkenazy said late last year there were nearly a dozen new leases for retail and dining tenants in the works, including four on the upper level of the Pratt Street Pavilion that had been renovated.
Almost none of those have since been announced. Mason’s Lobster Rolls arrived this year. Build-a-Bear came last year, and Banana Republic, which left a space in The Gallery across the street in 2016 and moved to a new spot at the Pratt Street pavilion.
Young said he’d like to see a survey of local residents and visitors at nearby hotels, asking them what attracts them to the harbor.
The mayor pointed out that the city owns the land on which the retail shopping destination was built, and acknowledged the potential to sell it. In any event, he’s “quite sure” the Baltimore Development Corporation, the city’s development arm, will be reaching out to IVL Group.
“Whoever buys it, it’s up to them. But I would like to have those conversations.”
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