A year ago, Gerald Neily gave up what he called "the nitty-gritty of city living" and moved out of his downtown Mount Vernon neighborhood.
But he didn't leave town.
He decided to live above it.
He moved from his four-bedroom Victorian rowhouse on Chase Street into a one-bedroom condominium in Scarlett Place, a 14-story waterfront building that dominates the skyline of Little Italy on the eastern edge of the Inner Harbor.
Scarlett Place, built above what was once the Scarlett Seed company, resembles a town built on a Mediterranean hillside. It has parking on the lower levels and 143 terraced sky-homes with balconies above.
"It's right in the middle of all the action," says Neily, a city planner. "Mount Vernon was in the middle of action too, but not the right action. It had the dirt and nitty-gritty of city living. Now I'm above it all. I feel like I'm aloof being above the city. It's a great feeling. High-rise living is really nice."
Neily bought his condo in the spring of 1989 at an auction held to sell 71 of the condos that had failed to move through the traditional real estate market.
The unit he purchased for $109,000 was originally priced at $200,000, which Neily now says was "pretty outlandish."
"I don't think it's worth $200,000. But I think it's a good investment and I think it's an easy investment. The maintenance is so small compared to my 100-year-old townhouse," he adds.
Kathleen McRoberts also bought her two-bedroom condo at Scarlett Place at the 1989 auction and moved downtown from Harford County. Hers cost $105,000, according to city land records.
She now walks three blocks to work at the U.S. Custom House.
"I wanted to live right in the city . . . it's very interesting. I can just sit on the balcony and be entertained. The building itself is very well-constructed with soundproofing. You can close windows and doors and can't hear any outside sound. And you can't hear your neighbors," she adds.
She estimates that one-third of her neighbors are young, one-third are middle-aged and one-third are older, retired people.
A few miles east of Scarlett Place is Canton Cove, a waterfront building that once housed the Tin Decorating Co. and is now filled with 89 luxury condominiums, many with dramatic views of the harbor and Fort McHenry.
Interior designer Peter Fender moved there from Pennsylvania even though he works in York, Pa., during the week.
He first rented an apartment in the building next door, Tindeco Wharf, then bought a Canton Cove condo this past spring for $284,000.
"It's really slick," he says. "This is like you're five minutes from everything, but you feel like you're a little rural but you're not in the middle of Fells Point."
"I took the master bedroom and am turning it into a formal dining room. Then I put a 16-foot Palladian window between the living room and dining room. It's really slick. I love it here. I got a little sailboat and it's right out front. It's slick."
Lida Bates, a psychotherapist, moved from a small rowhouse in Federal Hill to Canton Cove last year. She bought a condo for $191,000, according to city land records.
"It has incredible convenience," she says. "The funny thing about Canton is that it's 15 minutes to everything. Shopping is close. Obviously there's the water. The view is beautiful and surprisingly serene."
"It's not a mammoth building, not like Scarlett Place. It's very manageable in size and I guess I wanted to feel part of a community. There are a lot of young people who live down here and a lot of professionals," she says, adding that she also likes the building's security system.
Recently, Bates' parents also bought a condo at Canton Cove.
"They had an explosion in their house [in Mount Washington] and lived with me for four months," Bates says. "They had no interest in moving back to the suburbs.
"My mother was very skeptical. It was such a change in lifestyle. Actually, it meets their needs. It's like being on a vacation. My mother watches the tankers come and go and it's quiet."