Pratt St. building to be 'see-through' 2 biggest tenants soon to defect

May 30, 1992|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,Staff Writer

In 1982, leasing office space at the new Inner Harbor Center at 400 E. Pratt St. was as easy as a cruise. But that was then, and this is now.

In 1992, the coming defections of the building's two biggest tenants are shoving it into the ranks of "see-through structures" that have become the signature of real estate's recession.

More than 110,000 of the building's 135,000 square feet of office space will be empty as the architecture firm RTKL Associates Inc. and American Telephone & Telegraph Co. move out.

Soon, the now-full building will be among the loneliest in Baltimore, with a vacancy rate of more than 80 percent -- about four times as high as the citywide Class A rate. Almost the only thing left will be a view of the National Aquarium across the street.

"Obviously, we have space to market, and we're marketing the space," said William R. Finger, vice president of the Peter D. Leibowits Co. of Greenwich, Conn., the lead owner of the building. "Given the nature of the Baltimore marketplace, it probably will take some time."

Unlike 6 St. Paul Centre, a 7-year-old, 15 percent-leased Class A building downtown, the vacancy at 400 E. Pratt St. isn't happening because Baltimore businesses don't like the building or can't abide its developers.

At the corner of St. Paul and Baltimore streets, 6 St. Paul Centre has been held back by its copper color, its smaller-than-average floors and the reputation of Gerald Klein, the savings and loan association president who built it. Mr. Klein, who was acquitted of criminal charges growing out of the 1985 collapse of Merritt Commercial Savings & Loan, lost control of the building in 1985. It now belongs to Chemical Banking Corp. of New York.

In contrast, Inner Harbor Center's defecting tenants have only nice things to say about their building.

"My personal view is that it's a nice building," said Janet Stone, a public relations manager for AT&T, who said the company is moving to Anne Arundel County about July 1 to cut costs and to get a more central location for members of its sales and service staffs who handle accounts in Baltimore and Washington.

"I think it's a great building," said Harold Adams, chairman of RTKL Associates, whose firm agreed in 1989 to move to the soon-to-be-completed Commerce Place tower a few blocks away because the 1980s development boom had tripled RTKL's staffing. Those late-1980s levels have since been slashed sharply by layoffs. "It's got the best view in town."

RTKL hasn't set a firm departure date.

Mr. Finger said it will take more than patience to lease Inner Harbor Center in this market. Instead, the owners will shift strategic gears entirely, said Mr. Finger and Dennis Malone, the W.C. Pinkard & Co. broker who handles the building's day-to-day leasing effort.

They are not going to bother trying to find one tenant who can lease enough space to solve all their problems. Instead, they are going to try to fill the building with many smaller tenants who will take 5,000 or 10,000 square feet apiece.

Mr. Finger the plan when the building opened called for many small tenants but that RTKL and AT&T came along and made everything easier than the developers had planned.

"400 E. Pratt St. will not compete with 100 E. Pratt St.," Mr. Malone said, referring to the new addition to the IBM-T. Rowe Price building, another Pinkard listing. "Let's face it: It's a 10-year-old property compared to one that's brand new."

Instead, Mr. Malone said, the primary competition will be mid-1980s buildings such as 6 St. Paul Centre and the old Baltimore Federal Financial headquarters at 300 E. Lombard St. The strategy boils down to parking (Inner Harbor Center has an attached garage with several times the usual number of spaces for a building its size), Pratt Street, privacy and price.

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