Critics soften opposition to Charles Street office tower Latest tower plan expected to call for narrow structure, covered sidewalk.

Commercial real estate

November 27, 1991|By Kevin Thomas | Kevin Thomas,Evening Sun Staff

Opponents of a proposal to build a 32-story office tower at the corner of Charles and Redwood streets in downtown Baltimore are expressing cautious optimism about the latest plans coming from developers of the project, called the Baltimore Financial Centre.

Ira C. Cooke, an attorney representing corporate neighbors of the proposed project, this week said that a new proposal unveiled by developer Leonard Attman's Charles/Redwood +V Limited Partnership "appears to be a step in the right direction."

Cooke added, however, that his clients feel they haven't been told enough about the revised plans to make a final decision.

He was specifically critical of Attman's decision not to discuss his new plans with opponents in advance of making them public. Cooke also questioned why an artist's rendering of the new project has not been made available.

Still, the apparently softer position taken by Cooke may represent a breakthrough for the long-beleaguered project, which has undergone a series of revisions as Attman has attempted to win approval from various city agencies.

In June, the city Planning Commission turned down a request that Attman be allowed to take over one lane of Redwood Street to build the tower. The commission voted 5-2 against the plan after neighboring property owners said the proposal would cause traffic problems.

Earlier, Attman had hoped to take over two lanes of Redwood Street for a substantially larger building. That plan also was opposed by neighbors.

The new proposal calls for a narrower office tower that would not extend into the street. Under the plan, part of the building would be constructed above the Redwood Street sidewalk, suspended pillars four stories high.

With a portion of the building suspended above the sidewalk, proponents hope to create a promenade or arcade effect. More importantly, the new design would allow proponents to build a structure they say will be large enough to be financially feasible.

"We want a building that is scaled down in size but suitable for the kind of tenant we want to attract," said Michael A. Christianson, an attorney representing Charles/Redwood Limited Partnership. "This is not an abstract debate."

Christianson said the new plan calls for a 388,000-square-foot building with an average of about 15,000 square feet per floor, the minimum necessary to attract tenants to a Class-A structure.

Proponents declined to release what was called a "free-hand sketch" of the new proposal, saying it was too soon.

Still, proponents hope to win approval for the project from the Planning Commission and the City Council, which must decide whether to approve a modification of the city's urban renewal legislation. Christianson said he hoped to have approval by January.

"We want to move forward promptly with this to determine if Baltimore City wants the benefits this building will provide," he said. "The question is, 'Do we have something the city feels is good for Baltimore and is appropriate for our client's property rights?' "

More than five years ago, Attman and his partners, Albert Kishter and Lowell Glazer, purchased the buildings at 15, 17 and 19 S. Charles St. and began plans to build a high-rise to replace them.

Another Attman-owned property, the Hansa Haus, across the street at the northeast corner of Charles and Redwood, will apparently not be affected by the project.

The Germanic-style, two-story building, which preservationists labeled an "endangered landmark" when Attman bought it, was recently leased for a 10-year-period to the Tres Bon bakery and cafe chain.

Christianson said the time frame for having the Baltimore Financial Centre constructed is three to five years.

Cooke warned, however, that Attman may still have trouble proving that his building is not too large for the plot of land it will sit on.

While the "footprint" for the project has shrunk with each revision, its height -- 32 stories -- has remained the same.

"Just because a building is not coming out on to Redwood Street, doesn't mean that its size is appropriate for its land location," Cooke said.

***

The following leasing transactions were announced by Casey & Associates Commercial and Industrial Realtors:

* Unifirst Corp., a national uniform rental firm, recently leased 641 square feet of office space at 6851 Oak Hill Lane in Columbia. Casey & Associates represented the tenant and Manekin Corp. represented the landlord, T.A.P.O. Ltd.

* Andrew E. Sweetak, an electronics firm, recently purchased a 2,000-square-foot office unit at 9693-1R Gerwig Lane in Columbia. Casey & Associates represented the seller, Brian Thoreson and Carey Winston represented the buyer, Andrew E. Sweetak.

* Mann & Whelley P.A., a law firm, recently leased 1,864 square feet of office space at 409 Washington Ave. in Towson. Casey & Associates represented the tenant and the landlord, Mercantile-Towson Joint Venture.

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