Upscale housing transforms waterfront

October 25, 1990|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,Evening Sun Staff

Ida May Raynor, 83, has never heard of a concierge.

In working-class Canton, where she was born and raised, the factory workers never had such servants to buy their groceries or get their cars fixed.

But Canton is changing, much to Raynor's astonishment. In an old tin company where her brother once worked on the Boston Street waterfront, wealthy boat owners now live in quarter-million-dollar condominiums over a lobby adorned in .

antique tapestries and marble floors.

And they have a concierge to run their errands.

"That's progress," says the widow, rolling her eyes in amazement.

During the last few years, the lure of the waterfront -- from Canton westward to Fells Point, Little Italy and the Inner Harbor and south to Federal Hill -- has brought developers with ambitious plans for luxury townhouses, apartments and marinas where warehouses, a chair factory, a shipyard and a licorice plant once stood.

And, despite current economic uncertainties and the scaling back of some projects, the developers still are coming.

They want to transform the city's shoreline into Baltimore's version of a "gold coast" with pricey views of Fort McHenry, Domino Sugar and, on a clear day, Bethlehem Steel.

If all the developers' plans materialize, the "gold coast" could have 4,000 new homes and 4,500 boat slips by the year 2000.

Already, the once gritty waterfront has become home to the president of the Baltimore Orioles and the president emeritus of Johns Hopkins University.

Among projects completed are the Canton Cove condominiums constructed inside the old Tin Decorating Co. annex on Boston Street.

Canton Cove offers a waterfront swimming pool, a marina and a concierge service in the lobby with gleaming marble floors surrounding the original steel beams. Many of the condos have dramatic, 14-foot-high, tinted glass windows and balconies overlooking the harbor. Prices start at $124,000 and range up to $450,000. Condo maintenance fees reach as high as $447 a month. As of this week, 70 of the 89 apartments had sold.

Nearby along Boston Street, luxury apartments rent at Tindeco Wharf -- also part of the former Tin Decorating Co. -- and at the Shipyard, a converted chair factory.

Farther west in Fells Point, the restored but troubled Henderson's Wharf -- a warehouse originally converted into condominiums -- is being turned into upscale rental apartments and a hotel with a concierge service that should be open by early next year.

Several townhouse developments also have been completed, some directly on the water with boat slips several yards from front doors.

Other projects are still months and even years from groundbreaking, such as the sprawling 20 acres of Inner Harbor East overlooking the water behind Little Italy. Developers have yet to obtain financing and are waiting out economic uncertainties before they decide exactly what kind of homes to build.


The disparity between these new projects and the simple Formstone or brick rowhouses of the old neighborhoods worries community leaders.

They wonder: What will the new Canton do to the old Canton? What will become of funky, vintage Fells Point? Will an elite, 27-story condominium project called HarborView, planned for the south side of the Inner Harbor, eclipse the already gentrified Federal Hill?

Will people like Ida Mae Raynor be able to afford to live in the little rowhouses near the water in future generations?

"Having that kind of [expensive] housing isn't bad," says Bob Giloth, executive director of the Southeast Community Organization. "But we think affordable, stable housing should be preserved."

With dwindling federal money for moderate- and low-income housing, the city has fewer opportunities to preserve waterfront communities for the people who have traditionally lived there.

Critics of the new development, including neighborhood leaders, say the promise of lucrative real estate taxes expected from the glossy waterfront housing has warped the city's vision of the communities that give Baltimore its special historic character.

Developers and city officials counter that waterfront housing will be good for the neighborhoods and for the city by increasing home values and dropping more real estate tax dollars into city coffers.

Nelson Adlin, former president of the Fells Point Business Association, said the city has been too permissive "in allowing development that does not conform to the existing quality of the historic neighborhood."

"There's very little sensitivity between the historic neighborhoods and the behemoths that have been built," says Adlin, who with his wife, Lily, operates a small apartment renovation and rental business.

"The folks in government have very short memories and no feeling about anything but the immediate future," he adds. "They don't give a damn what this community is going to be like five or 10 years down the road."


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