A foreclosure auction for a set of buildings in Little Italy was canceled on Wednesday after a bankruptcy filing by the property owner.
The sale of the properties that included the former Ciao Bella restaurant and an adjacent parking lot once the site of a popular community outdoor movie series was halted minutes before the 11 a.m. start time on the steps of the Clarence M. Mitchelll Jr. Courthouse in downtown Baltimore.
As close to a dozen potential bidders and spectators awaited the sale, a representative of property owner 201-230 South High Street LLC approached Paul Cooper, principal at Alex Cooper Auctioneers, and announced the bankruptcy filing. The foreclosure auction was then abruptly called off after the filing in U.S. District Court was confirmed.
The bankruptcy filing was not yet available in online court records as of Wednesday afternoon and the property owner could not be reached for comment.
Cooper said it was uncertain if or when the properties would return to the auction block. The matter is now in bankruptcy court.
The main building at 236 S. Hight St. is fully leased to apartment tenants and the owners of Saturday Morning Cafe. The property once held Ciao Bella and later the sports-themed eatery Lew Gambino’s. Gambino’s closed in July 2020 during the pandemic.
The auction cancellation was the latest chapter in the ongoing saga of the future of the building that is located across from the busy Amicci’s restaurant in the heart of Little Italy.
Ownership of Ciao Bella had been in flux since 2018 after the once family-owned restaurant changed hands following the 2000 death of founder Tony Gambino Sr. The restaurant featured Northern and Southern Italian cuisine with a signature dish called “Veal Chesapeake.” Ciao Bella sold in 2018 for just over $1 million to a group that included Ravens Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis.
The auction was seen as another change for the dense, retail-heavy Little Italy commercial core where several restaurants have closed and some properties are vacant or have sold over a 10-year period. Some mainstays like Velleggia’s, DaMimmo, Germano’s, Joe Benny’s Focacceria and Aldo’s Ristorante Italiano have shuttered completely while other sites have been redeveloped to hold multi-family developments to keep up with the popularity of nearby Harbor East and Harbor Point.
A 40-unit apartment project at 906 Trinity St. opened a couple of years ago to replace the long-vacant Panino’s Italian Restaurant, and a 23-story tower opened at the former site of the Della Notte restaurant just before the pandemic. In addition, plans are being made to convert the former Stratford University Baltimore campus facing Central Avenue to loft apartments under new ownership.