When architect Robert Mills finished building a row of 12 town houses in the Mount Vernon area in 1818, the country was coming out of a recession and few people were in the market for new residences. The project went bust, the builders took up residence in lieu of payment, and the houses were nicknamed Waterloo Row for Mills' "defeat."
This year, as David Tufaro finishes construction on a new housing development that replaces Waterloo Row, the country once again is coming out of a recession, and the housing market is anything but strong.
Yet Mr. Tufaro, who defiantly named his development Waterloo Place, is optimistic that history won't repeat itself.
"I think we'll do well. We're getting a lot of inquiries," he said during a recent tour of the $18.6 million, 196-unit apartment rTC complex, the largest rental development to open in Baltimore this year.
While Waterloo Place "might take longer than we expected" to fill up because of the weak economy, he said, "at least we're getting our project built and the city gets the benefit of filling a major missing tooth" in the streetscape.
Mr. Tufaro is the regional partner for the mid-Atlantic office of Summit Properties, which is building the project in joint venture with Aetna Realty Investment Corp., a subsidiary of Aetna Life Insurance Co. Summit opened a leasing center and furnished models earlier this month at the project, which takes up the entire city block bounded by Calvert, Monument, St. Paul and Centre streets.
Although much of the 2.2-acre site is still a construction zone, the developer has certificates of occupancy for the first 36 units and the garage and plans to complete the rest in phases by September.
From the beginning, the project was designed to take advantage of the Mount Vernon location and easy walking distance to downtown, while providing amenities found in suburban garden apartments, including a swimming pool, clubhouse and on-site parking.
City officials have strongly supported Waterloo Place as a key to stabilizing the Mount Vernon neighborhood, finishing off Mount Vernon Place architecturally and helping attract more middle-income residents to the city.
Built over a 250-car underground garage, the residences include one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments in four-story buildings overlooking Mount Vernon Place, the downtown skyline or landscaped interior courtyards.
The apartments include duplex units and flats. All of them have private balconies or patios, and some have fireplaces, vaulted ceilings and bay windows. The exteriors, which feature detailed brickwork, ornamental ironwork and varied roofs, were designed as a modern complement to the Victorian architecture of the surrounding neighborhood.
Rents at Waterloo Place range from $650 per month for a one-bedroom unit to $1,600 per month for a three-bedroom apartment with views of the Washington Monument. The average monthly rent is about $850. Square footage ranges from 620 square feet to 1,500 square feet, with the average unit having about 930 square feet.
To provide an incentive to early renters, Summit is offering "construction discounts" of up to one and a half months of free rent to those who don't mind moving in while work is under way nearby.
Mr. Tufaro's team was selected to build the project in October 1987, after competing against five other groups for the right to develop the city-owned property, which was cleared in 1970 to make way for a 333-unit residential project that never materialized. When construction began in September 1989, it marked the end to a nearly 20-year effort by city officials in four mayoral administrations to find a team that could move ahead with a viable project on the site.
Mr. Tufaro was the only one of the six developers in the 1987 competition to suggest construction of rental housing rather than condominiums or luxury town houses. He argued that his project could be marketed initially as rental apartments and then converted to condominiums if the market for them ever emerged. Looking back, he said, that approach is what made it possible to build and market the development in the current economy.
"I think my judgment was absolutely right when we were trying to get this in 1987," he said. "If we were doing this as a condominium project, somebody would be turning the keys back to the bank, and the project would be sitting there half-finished today. To take a whole city block and carry out that kind of [for-sale] development is virtually impossible to do with the ebbs and flow of the market."
David Furman Architecture and Gantt/Huberman Architects of Charlotte, N.C., designed Waterloo Place. Blazer Building Inc. of Houston is the general contractor. Construction financing is being provided by Wachovia Bank and Trust Co. of Charlotte, and Aetna Realty is providing permanent financing. Summit Management Co. is managing the apartments.