Photo by Eli Pousson, via Flickr

After numerous attempts, the Baltimore Development Corporation has succeeded in finding a developer to rehab what remains of the historic Mayfair Theatre and an adjacent lot that previously housed the Franklin-Delphy Hotel.

Zahlco Development submitted the winning bid for a request for proposals put out by the BDC in February, according to an agenda for this week’s Board of Estimates meeting. The developer is planning to rehab and expand the historic theater property at 506 N. Howard St. and construct a 40-unit apartment dwelling and a separate retail building on the same corner at 300-304 W. Franklin St.

According to minutes from an August meeting of the BDC’s board of directors, Zahlco’s planned development would be called Mayfair Place. The lot with the remnant parts of the theater would be outfitted to hold office space, a restaurant on the ground floor and a “gallery space that opens up to an outdoor seating and performance area.”

A team led by Station North-based developer SAA/EVI submitted the only other bid, the minutes say. Their plan was called The New Mayfair, and would have added an outdoor concert venue, an apartment building and a structure behind the theater that would served as “incubator/rehearsal space for musicians.”

All that remains of the theater is the façade and a 35-foot-deep section of the lobby, following a 2015 city-sanctioned demolition. The BDC asked that developers employ “all reasonable preservation efforts” to keep those pieces intact while restoring and adding to the structure.

The city is agreeing to sell Zahlco the properties for $400,000, a hefty discount from their combined appraised market value of $700,000, because it will help to restore a long-vacant city landmark, eliminate blight and bring in tax revenue for the city while also creating new jobs and businesses, according to the agenda. The company is paying $260,000 up front when the deal reaches settlement.

The city will also credit the developer for up to $140,000 in expenses to “address subsurface conditions” at the sites, knocking however much Zahlco spends on that task off the developer’s remaining debt. As an example, BDC spokeswoman Susan Yum said in an email that if Zahlco spends $60,000 to fix subsurface conditions, it will owe only $80,000 more to the city.

Zahlco has not respond to messages requesting more details on its plans. But in a release put out by the BDC on Wednesday morning, CEO Yonah Zahler noted his firm already redeveloped the Congress Hotel Apartments at 306 W. Franklin Street, next to the Mayfair Theatre and other parcels his firm just acquired from the city.

“Having already invested in the Congress Hotel Apartments, we feel we can parlay our brand of style and vibe to the new project,” he said in a statement. “The new construction will create a hub of activity connecting the already built projects nearby, by creating a destination for an interactive space with nightlife.”

For two months, the quasi-public BDC invited bids that would use a “creative and feasible approach to repurposing the former Mayfair Theatre,” and be compatible with the surrounding Bromo Arts and Entertainment District.

The RFP called for proposals that produce more activity in the dedicated arts district on the downtown’s west side, raise property values, bring in tax revenues and “activate ground floors” for pedestrian access, among other criteria.

The Mayfair opened in 1904 in place of the demolished Howard Auditorium, and for years served as a popular venue for vaudeville shows and live plays. It was converted into a cinema in 1941, and screened films for more than four decades leading up to its closure in 1986. In 1998, its roof collapsed, and in 2014 a two-alarm fire that started in an adjacent vacant building further damaged it, leading the city to tear down most of the theater.

This was the BDC’s third attempt to redevelop the site. Negotiations for a 2007 deal with developers fell through, and no developers submitted bids for a 2016 RFP. The BDC has not responded to a request to share Zahlco’s RFP-winning bid for the property.

Zahlco has made headlines for its building projects this year, including a planned 50-unit complex in historic Ridgley’s Delight and, most recently, its acquisition of the Bell Foundry space in Station North, where it’s planning to build an “urban living complex” while potentially preserving the former arts space, the broker in the deal said.

The Mayfair Theatre sits in the Market Center National Register Historic District, and because it’s also a designated Baltimore City landmark, any proposed changes to the building are subject to design review by the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation. Its location also makes its redevelopment eligible for state, local and federal tax credits.

This story has been updated.

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...

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