Two years ago they couldn't sell them fast enough. A champagne brunch on the Boston Street waterfront brought dozens of eager buyers with deposits for townhouses and condominiums that had yet to be built. Some of the homes cost more than a half-million dollars.
Luckily, the deposits were refundable.
Today the developers of the North Shore at the Anchorage in Canton have returned all but a few of the deposits, have scaled back their project by $11 million and have decided to build townhouses instead of condominiums.
The troubled real estate market -- and the belief among many that this is not a condo town -- has prompted developers of city waterfront homes to lower their prices, scale back their plans or hold off on construction until the market improves or they can locate financing.
Nevertheless, developers say there is still a market for their high-priced homes -- townhouses, condos and expensive apartments with every luxury and amenity imaginable -- that will make up Baltimore's version of a "gold coast" to extend from the 2900 block of Boston St. in Canton westward to the Inner Harbor.
The development, which began less than a decade ago, could bring 4,000 homes and 4,500 boat slips to the water by the year 2000 if all the projects now on the drawing boards are built.
Many developers, while talking cautiously about the current sluggish real estate market, say the "uniqueness" of their projects' location and design, as well as an offering of high-class amenities, will give them a sales edge over their competitors.
They also hope to lure people from as far south as Virginia and as far north as New York City to buy condos or townhouses on the Baltimore waterfront.
Already, one developer's optimism has paid off.
Stuart Hettleman is vice president of HarborView, the luxury high-rise project about to be built on the south side of the Inner Harbor at the foot of Federal Hill. A 27-story, 254-condo tower will be built first, with a 1992 completion date. It is part of a bigger plan for 1,550 condos on 33 acres along Key Highway on the southern rim of the Inner Harbor.
As of this week, 73 buyers had reserved apartments and handed over refundable deposits. Hettleman said his staff is having difficulty meeting the rush from interested buyers.
HarborView is being marketed as slickly as any of the other new projects, with promotional copy full of hyperbole.
"Rising majestically at the gateway of Baltimore's beautiful Inner Harbor stands a new concept in exclusive waterfront living . . . This is HarborView. Ideally situated as a focal point in the dynamic Baltimore-Washington Common Market," begins the promotional booklet handed out to more than 1,700 people who came to the open house last month to kick off sales.
The flurry of early reservations has prompted HarborView developers to increase the condominium prices -- originally ranging from $129,000 to $1.25 million -- by six to seven percent. Prices will continue to rise, said Hettleman.
While HarborView's initial reservations are healthy and even surprising, analysts are skeptical and cautious about prospects for the new "gold coast."
Robert Kleinpaste, president of the Legg Mason Realty Group, which analyzes the real estate market, says the success of the many new housing developments along the city's waterfront "requires an infusion of high incomes from elsewhere. It would require an infusion of households from the Washington region, or those households could come from infusion of new employment downtown. That's the unknown."
To find the kind of people who can afford some of the expensive new waterfront homes, Kleinpaste says, the city needs to lure a private corporation to move its offices into downtown Baltimore so its executives will want to live nearby.
He also notes that "no urban condo project has captured a significant number of people from Washington."
HarborView officials, however, say 15 percent of their buyers are from the Washington area. One third of the buyers already live in Baltimore, and 27 percent live in the Baltimore suburbs. Other buyers have come from as far away as West Virginia and New York.
Kleinpaste also says that if a project like HarborView succeeds it will partly be because the developers plan to create a completely enclosed environment. Residents will not only have a safe place to live and park, but they also will be able to eat, shop, send out their laundry and exercise without ever leaving the property.
While HarborView developers are finding that the economic downturn has little effect on sales, developers of other projects have scaled back their plans.
North Shore at the Anchorage, in the 2100 block of Boston St., decided to replace condominiums with 54 townhouses, despite the early enthusiasm from prospective buyers. Construction also was delayed for a few years but is supposed to begin this fall.