March 24, 2015 at 2:00 pm EDT | by Steve Charing
Obstacles remain in Baltimore Eagle reopening
Baltimore Eagle, gay news, Washington Blade

The Baltimore Eagle closed in 2012. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Baltimore Eagle, a mainstay of Baltimore’s leather community since 1991, closed in December 2012 following its sale, leaving many in the community uncertain as to the bar’s fate.

Charles Parrish and Ian Parrish purchased the property and vowed to re-open it again as the Baltimore Eagle after renovations are completed. But when Ian Parrish came in to further examine the premises located at 2022 N. Charles St. following the sale, the magnitude of the work needed to complete the project was, as he put it, “the worst possible case.”

According to the website of the Community Law Center, a nonprofit law firm that provides legal services to community and nonprofit organizations throughout Maryland, “There was a lien on the property that the title search did not pick up. The property was full of garbage and had been used for drugs and prostitution. The roof was collapsing and the mortar between the bricks was turning to sand. The Parrishes had to gut the building. So far, he [sic] has expended $150,000 and the project will probably end up costing around $1 million.” This does not include the purchase price.

Parrish indicated that a dumpster a day for a month was needed to remove the trash, two large box trucks of furniture and personal items were donated to Habitat for Humanity, and even more truckloads of items were sent for recycling. Other work, such as the installation of an electrical line from BGE and a six-month permitting process, were essential to bring the building up to code.

“We took bed sheets off the wall covering structural problems. . . there were goods and memorabilia collected over 30 years. It was 10,000 square feet of hoarder space,” Parrish said.  As a result of these unexpected delays, the 180-day requirement needed to complete construction was not met to satisfy the Baltimore Liquor Board, thus placing the entire project in jeopardy.

Throughout this period, the Parrish family stated that they kept neighboring civic associations, city officials and others abreast of the ongoing developments. During a contentious hearing with the liquor board on March 12, the Parrishes along with their attorney Melvin Kodenski argued that their application for a transfer of ownership be approved since the scope of the reconstruction warranted an extension of the 180-day guideline.

Kodenski noted that in the past, such extensions were granted for cases of fire, arson, redevelopment and other issues. He cited a case, Woodfield v. West River Improvement Association, which he said held that the board does not have to enforce the 180-day provision, if it chooses not to.

One of the three-member Liquor Board commissioners, Dana Petersen Moore, strongly rebuked Kodenski’s argument saying, “all of that went out the window after the audit. Those policies and procedures were wrong.” Indeed, the audit she referred to criticized previous commissioners for disregarding Maryland law and new commissioners were appointed—two by then-Gov. Martin O’Malley and one by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake—to enforce the rules more stringently.

Tom Ward, a former judge who was appointed to chair the board, told Kodenski to submit a legal memorandum delineating the circumstances for why the board should extend the timeframe. Ward remarked during the hearing, “It looks to me like maybe you bought something that you shouldn’t have bought.”

Kodenski would have to find legal precedent but would need to go outside of Baltimore City since the past liquor board’s actions have been criticized based on the audit. Ward stated that if he cannot be convinced to extend the 180-day rule after reviewing Kodenski’s memorandum, the liquor license would be considered dead.

Much of the arguments at the March 12 hearing focused on turf battles among various civic associations and over process and not knowing the plans for the establishment. Representatives from the Charles North Community Association and the Charles Village Civic Association opposed the extension. Kelly Cross, president of the Old Goucher Community Association, was in support of the project stating that the neighborhood is in need of nightlife entertainment.

Ian Parrish remains optimistic that these issues will be resolved and will soon unveil his new management team.  “They said I shouldn’t have bought that building, but I think this neighborhood and this bar are worth the risk,” Parrish told the Blade.  “The groundwork is laid, our construction team is standing by, and as soon as the eight people who oppose this project get out of the way, we can get to work.”

The Baltimore Eagle’s website still points to a 2015 re-opening.

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