Developer proposes apartments for Redwood Street BALTIMORE CITY

December 08, 1992|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

A local developer believes two historic office buildings in downtown Baltimore can be converted successfully to apartments, even though their Washington-based owner is contemplating demolition.

J. Joseph Clarke, head of Clarke Enterprises and husband of City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, is part of a team that has studied the former Redwood Center office buildings at Redwood and Calvert streets. He believes they would be ideal for conversion to 132 apartments for stockbrokers, attorneys and others who work in downtown Baltimore.

"It could be like a 1930s apartment building, very New York in feel," Mr. Clarke said. "It's a nice use because once you get more people living downtown, it would change the whole area."

Converting the buildings to residences also would support Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's 20-year strategy for guiding downtown development, which calls for more housing near the center of the city.

"This is in the heart of the financial district," Mr. Clarke said. "The assumption is that there are 130 investment brokers, attorneys and other hard-working professionals who put in 14- to 15-hour days and who want a pied-a-terre close by where they can crash before going in to work again early the next day. Then they may head off for a three-day weekend at their country estates on the Eastern Shore."

Redwood Center includes an eight-story building at 131 E. Redwood St. and a 12-story building at 26 S. Calvert St. Constructed between 1905 and 1929, they once housed the predecessor of USF&G Corp. Preservationists say the character of Baltimore's financial district would be irrevocably damaged if they are torn down.

Riggs National Bank of Washington acquired the buildings for $3.8 million in 1990 after foreclosing on a developer who tried to convert them to a $20 million office center.

After seeking buyers for more than a year, the bank's agent, W. C. Pinkard & Co., has asked community groups to propose alternatives to demolition. The Citizens Planning and Housing Association is holding a meeting tomorrow at noon in Pinkard's offices, 7 E. Redwood St.

The sale price is $3.65 million. If a buyer doesn't emerge soon, preservationists say, they believe Riggs will seek to raze the buildings.

Mr. Clarke, a former executive with Trammell Crow Residential, said he began studying the buildings more than a year ago with Dirk Mosis, a Trammell Crow partner now in Texas, and architect Adam Gross.

The group concluded that 132 apartments could be created along with street-level retail space at a cost of $7.5 million to $8 million. Rents would be competitive with apartments in Charles Center and midtown -- about $650 to $700 a month for a one-bedroom unit.

The city would have to change zoning for the property to permit residential use. If his group can proceed, Mr. Clarke said, it would ask for a waiver of the on-site parking requirement. Lack of parking would be no problem, he said, because residents most likely would have parking spaces where they work.

Mr. Clarke said he has met with Riggs officials but never got to a serious negotiating stage. After the initial meetings, he said, city officials announced that they were forming a task force to study the feasibility of recycling older office buildings to housing, and the Redwood Center talks were put on hold.

Mr. Clarke said he doesn't usually work in Baltimore because of his wife's post and their mutual desire to avoid conflicts of interest.

But he feels strongly that Redwood Center can be saved. "I would be happy to work . . . on this," he said. "I want to do what I can to help."

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