A Baltimore County-based developer of educational software is negotiating to move its headquarters to downtown Baltimore, where it would join Sylvan Learning Systems Inc. as one of the first office tenants in the 20-acre Inner Harbor East development.
SkillsBank Corp., a nine-year-old company that markets software nationwide for use in schools and homes, plans to move its 72 employees by next year from the Rouse Co.'s Rutherford Business Center to a $25 million to $30 million office and residential complex that is being planned by the Evans Co. of McLean, Va.
Both SkillsBank and Sylvan are in the final stages of negotiating leases for space in the 107,000-square-foot office portion of the project, which appears likely to become the first major development to get under way in the Inner Harbor East renewal area.
Designed by the joint venture of Beatty Harvey Fillat, the building would rise on the block bounded by Lancaster, Exeter and Aliceanna streets and Central Avenue, part of the city's federal Empowerment Zone.
SkillsBank would occupy 20,000 square feet. Sylvan, a nationwide testing and tutoring organization now based in Columbia, would occupy about 50,000 square feet, making the proposed office building nearly 70 percent occupied. Together, the two companies would bring about 300 office workers from the suburbs to downtown -- countering the trend in which many central business district companies are moving to the suburbs.
SkillsBank president Garry McDaniels said his company needs to move because it has outgrown its current space at 15 Governor's Court. He said he decided to move to the Inner Harbor after talking with Sylvan Chief Executive Officer Douglas Becker, who has been negotiating a move to the same location for months. "We're genuinely excited about coming downtown," Mr. McDaniels said. "We've always felt that being more closely associated with Baltimore would be a positive for our company. This is The City That Reads. The price of office space is very competitive with the suburbs. It's in the Empowerment Zone. And it's a lovely location."
In addition, he said, "The fact that we have two educational groups moving into Baltimore will help us build a stronger presence for education in the city. We'd like to have education and Baltimore connected in people's minds, like Silicon Valley and computers."
Plans for the complex, presented yesterday to Baltimore's Architectural Review Board, call for four levels of office space over a two-level platform containing parking for 220 cars and street level retail space along Lancaster Street.
Sharing the block with the office building may be a 10-story, 124-unit apartment building aimed at the same upscale market as the Tindeco Wharf apartments in Canton.
The city received a $1.4 million federal Urban Development Action Grant to build the apartments on a site two blocks farther west but is now exploring the idea of combining the housing with the offices so both projects could move ahead at the same time, explained Michele Whelley, executive vice president of the Baltimore Development Corp.
The combined project would give a much-needed boost to the Inner Harbor East project, by Gilbane Properties and the Paterakis family.
"BDC and the city see this proposed project as killing two birds with one stone," she said. "We get market-rate housing for families downtown, and we get two strong county companies willing to sign on the bottom line to come into the city and bring 300 jobs."