Developers of life sciences center seek more time


July 29, 1992|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

Developers of the proposed $600 million International Life Sciences Center plan to ask the city and state governments for extra time to complete planning and line up financing for the 2.5 million-square-foot medically oriented trade mart and conference center that they want to build next to Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Tom Marudas, vice president of the Swirnow Group, a partner in the development team, said the group would officially request this week that its nine-month negotiating period be extended so it could have more time to complete its plans.

Aug. 2 was the deadline set by state officials when they selected the Swirnow Group over several other bidders that competed last year for the chance to develop property east and north of the ballpark. The state property includes the air rights over the train tracks just east of the B&O warehouse, the south end of the B&O warehouse and the interior of historic Camden Station.

The negotiating privilege was awarded jointly by the Maryland Stadium Authority and the state Department of Transportation as part of an effort to generate development that will earn revenue for the state and help defray the cost of building and operating the ballpark.

The city of Baltimore subsequently gave the same development team exclusive rights to negotiate for a city block bounded by Pratt, Howard, Camden and Eutaw streets and for the air rights over a proposed $150 million expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center at the southeast corner of Pratt and Sharp streets.

Bruce Hoffman, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said he planned to convene an informal meeting this week with representatives of the stadium authority, the Transportation Department and the city of Baltimore to discuss the group's progress and possible request for an extension.

He said he doesn't want the state to stand in the way of the developers' efforts if they are making progress but does want to be sure the site is appropriate for the intended use.

"It's a very important economic development project," he said. The deadline "is not so hard and fast that we can't extend it if there's merit to their request. It the project isn't right for the space, that's another issue."

Honora Freeman, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city agency that oversees downtown development, said the Schmoke administration supports the medical mart project and will do whatever it can to assist the development team.

The medical mart is conceived as a permanent showcase for manufacturers and distributors of medical equipment and supplies, and would include a conference center for medically oriented groups and a 1,000-room hotel. In addition to the local partnership headed by Richard Swirnow, the development team includes Parkway Holdings Ltd. of Singapore. The same team is building the $600 million HarborView condominium complex in South Baltimore.

Mr. Marudas said the group has had "a very strong response from the market" in its efforts to line up tenants, but he decline to identify any, saying the list was still proprietary information. He said the group cannot execute leases until it formally controls the property but is seeking letters of intent from prospects.

Mr. Marudas added that preliminary design work so far has indicated the Camden Yards site is well suited to the project and poses no insurmountable problems. He said the first phase would most likely be a 400,000-square-foot section of the trade mart planned for the area south of the historic train station.

The group is keeping its options open, he said, about the idea of building a 1,000-room hotel above the Convention Center expansion, an idea that some members of Baltimore's architectural review board have criticized.

Mr. Hoffman, whose agency earlier this year was placed in charge of planning for the Convention Center expansion, said the Swirnow Group also has been exploring shifting the hotel to the city parcel north of the train station and using the air rights above the Convention Center expansion for specialized exhibit space.

If the Swirnow Group receives an extension of planning time, Mr. Marudas said, it would like to hold a design competition to help determine the best configuration for the medical mart. He said that the competition may be open to anyone but that the developers would particularly like to hear from groups with experience designing large, mixed-use complexes over train tracks or other complex air rights projects.

Mr. Hoffman said he would not like to grant another nine-month study period and would be more inclined to discuss an extension after 60 to 90 days.

Around the region

* A national restaurant company, Sfuzzi Inc., has leased 5,000 square feet on the first floor of 100 East Pratt Street and plans to open a Baltimore branch by fall.

It will be the 15th restaurant for the chain, which features pizzas, pastas, and other moderately priced specialties and desserts. L. Bruce Matthai of W. C. Pinkard & Co. represented the landlord and tenant.

* The Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors has selected the law firm of Gordon, Feinblatt, Rothman, Hoffberger and Hollander as its new general counsel, according to GBBR president William M. Hesson Jr.

* The master lease for the old St. Paul's Parish House at 309 Cathedral Street was acquired at auction last week for $475,000 by Home Federal Savings Bank of Hagerstown, the lending institution that initiated foreclosure proceedings earlier this year against the developer, 309 Cathedral Street Limited Partnership. Jonathan Melnick Auctioneers handled the sale.

According to Robert Carson, an attorney for Home Federal, the bank most likely will seek a buyer for the leasehold property once the auction is ratified in court.

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