The plan to turn Fell’s Point into a pedestrian wonderland by closing streets to vehicular traffic isn’t the only big proposal on the table. A recent presentation delivered to the Fell’s Point Resident’s Association (FRPA) documents how the Preservation Society may be transformed into a restaurant, bar, and Italian market.
The presentation was delivered by Dominic Lascola, owner of El Bufalo and Raw & Refined in Canton. He has worked with the Preservation Society for 2+ years on the plan and has a standing agreement to purchase the property pending community support. Whether the community provides that support remains to be seen.
The Preservation Society technically occupies 3 separate addresses in one swath of property- it’s huge (11,000+ sq/ft):
- 1724 Thames Street
- 1726 Thames Street
- 808 S. Ann Street
The plan calls for the main property, stretching from Thames to Lancaster, to become an upscale Italian concept with house made pasta and pizza for lunch and dinner service, bar atmosphere after hours, and brunch on the weekends.
The restaurant will seat a maximum of 150 not including outdoor seating and bar seating. The latter were estimated to add an additional 25 seats (which seems low). The fire marshal will ultimately dictate the full capacity.
The East side of the property at 808 S. Ann Street, previously occupied by Steven Scott gallery, would become an Italian Market with pre-made pasta, gourmet sandwiches, prepared lasagnas, etc…
Thames Street zoning is C-1-E (commercial entertainment) but because the Italian market concept faces Ann Street (residential) it will need conditional approval.
The Rooftop & Live Music
This process began two years ago and hasn’t been easy for Lascola who is nonetheless excited for the opportunity, “The building is so awesome and unique but has certain guidelines attached to it.”
One of those guidelines prevents the use of the Lancaster-facing garden for business use. To offset this setback, Lascola equipped his plan with a rooftop deck. It appears to be partially covered but open on the side nearest Thames Street (facing Pendry).
Combined with the intention to host live music, several residents leapt to vocal criticism, comparing the new concept with The Choptank and instantly focusing on loud music spilling onto Lancaster street. Some even declared, “it will never happen,” vowing to prevent the development at all costs.
It had to be reiterated that the open rooftop bar faced Thames Street and not Lancaster Street- an important distinction.
Mr. Lascola handled the criticism diplomatically and with great professionalism which bodes well for the potential. His plan is well thought out, has been in coordination with and endorsed by the Preservation Society, and proactively addresses elements known to concern neighbors. For example, the plan calls for eight 55 gallon drums of trash to be contained within their space and disseminated daily at the corner of Ann street, preventing the trash problems that haunt neighbors of other establishments.
The bulk of feedback during the presentation was critical in nature but its important to remember that the vocal minority do not necessarily represent the majority. The concern is valid, but if addressed properly this is an opportunity that both the Preservation Society and the neighborhood would benefit from moving forward.
Good for the Neighborhood?
The Preservation Society is bleeding money. The building itself is costing $3k/month in utilities alone and the volunteer driven group is desperately trying to refocus efforts around their core mission. Owning and operating a Visitor’s Center is no longer a possibility. The property is a liability and Mr. Lascola is prepared to lift a great financial burden during a difficult and uncertain time. He noted it would be the biggest investment of his career.
Proceeds from the sale will go into a fund that can pay dividends to the community in years to come. It will give the Preservation Society the opportunity to invest back into the community, hire employees and/or contractors to pursue core initiatives, and focus on what’s most important and achievable based on their mission.
The overbearing criticism of Lascola was addressed in part by a letter of recommendation from Doug Kaufman, a Canton Community Association Board Member where Lascola operates his two restaurants. The letter describes Lascola as a “community first” proprietor who is “an absolute joy to work with”, detailing how he led the transformation of a problem bar into a community asset by working with numerous neighborhood stakeholders including “THE most difficult neighbors in the SE portion of Baltimore City.”
That last superlative may be up for grabs, but with any luck, the Preservation Society will pass the torch and Fell’s Point will earn another world class establishment to its list of attractions.