A spot in Fells Point for Tuscan tastes


March 23, 1994|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,Sun Staff Writer

Fells Point gets a new waterfront eatery -- and Little Italy may or may not get new competition -- when Piccolo's restaurant opens in the old Francie's space at Brown's Wharf.

The space, owned by Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s Constellation Real Estate division, is right next to the water taxi stop at the Broadway waterfront in Fells Point. But that was not enough to make Francie's, which was owned by the same family that runs the Highlandtown institution Haussner's, live up to expectations.

"They didn't go bust," said Rick Uhlig, a Constellation executive who was involved in the landlord's talks with the owners of Francie's. "They didn't meet their measure of success, [but] it was a going concern and it was sold as a going concern."

And Piccolo's lead partner, John Mancuso, was happy to make the purchase and to sign a 15-year lease at Constellation's mixed-use complex. He has run the first Piccolo's in Columbia since 1989.

"I've always been excited about waterfront locations," said Mr. Mancuso, whose restaurant will have 250 indoor seats and, when weather permits, 80 outdoor seats. Piccolo's will open in late April. "The timing and the economy are right."

He said the restaurant's chef will be Harbor Court Hotel veteran Ashley Sharpe. The food will be based on the cuisine of the Tuscany section of northern Italy, which is heavy on grilled food and light sauces, rather than the mozzarella and red sauce of more traditional Italian eating. In a bow to its waterfront location, Piccolo's will also feature seafood, he said.

"We're not trying to compete with Little Italy at all," he said.

A revival ahead?

Everyone who follows commercial real estate knows that the office market will come back only after the labor market for white-collar professionals who use office space. And a new report from CB Commercial Real Estate Services contends that the job growth needed to jump-start the office business is beginning.

"In 1993, the level of office employment showed a modest rebound compared to lower levels in '91 and '92," economists Raymond G. Torto and William C. Wheaton write in CB Commercial's Commercial Real Estate Advisory. "Many people believe that most new jobs are going to Wal-Mart clerks and fast-food servers. But a newly released Department of Labor study shows that 60 percent of the 2.2 million jobs created over the past year have gone to managers and professionals, many of whom consume office space."

The other key to any pending recovery in office rents and return to single-digit vacancy rates is keeping the supply of new office space tight, they said.

Because job growth in the 1990s is likely to be slower than it was in the 1980s, developers will have to refrain from building new buildings to allow rents in existing structures to rise. That will begin to happen, the economists said, in the second half of 1994.

But -- and it's a big but -- they don't expect the national average for inflation-adjusted office rents to reach 1990 levels until 1998.

CB Commercial said that average rent for a five-year lease of 10,000 square feet of office space has fallen 21 percent nationally over the last eight years.

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