Contract signed for city housing 'New Lafayette Courts,' a $52 million project, is already under way

September 28, 1996|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

The Housing Authority of Baltimore City has signed a $52.3 million deal for the redevelopment of the site of the demolished Lafayette Courts public housing project with a joint venture made up of A&R Development, a local firm, and Harkins Builders of Silver Spring.

The contract, signed Tuesday, calls for A&R/Harkins to complete the design and construction of 228 townhouses and a 110-unit apartment building for the elderly, as well as a child care building and recreation center and a renovated and expanded community center.

It also includes all utility work and landscaping on the 21.5-acre site on the eastern edge of downtown, where six desolate high-rise towers were dynamited in a series of brief but dramatic explosions 13 months ago.

Housing authority executive director Daniel P. Henson III acknowledged that a contract has been signed. But he declined to comment on the deal or to make the contract available this week to The Sun, saying his staff had not been able to assemble all the pertinent papers. He said he would make the documents available at a news conference he plans on the project, perhaps as early as next week.

The contract cost was obtained from documents filed with the Maryland office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and confirmed in a brief telephone interview with the president of Harkins.

In a letter to HUD in August, Henson noted that the negotiated price was "within 5 percent of our pre-bid estimate" of $49.7 million and said "the cost is fair and reasonable."

The $52.3 million represents about three-quarters of the total redevelopment cost of $68.8 million, according to documents. Most of the rest of the money was spent on asbestos removal and demolition of the high-rises and site clearance of the property. A combination of federal, state and city funds is financing the project.

The project exceeds HUD's cost guidelines by $17.1 million, documents show. But HUD officials granted the city a waiver, saying the housing authority "cited sufficient good cause" for the higher price based on the "extraordinary costs" of demolition and the $9.3 million cost of the child care building and community and recreation center.

J. P. Blase Cooke, president of Harkins, called the Lafayette redevelopment "definitely our most important project in Baltimore."

The firm has done some 400 residential and commercial projects throughout the mid-Atlantic region since its founding 30 years ago, and its local projects range from Trinity House, a senior citizen apartment building in Towson, to the renovation of Cherry Hill Homes in southern Baltimore.

Harkins' partner, A&R Development, is headed by Theo Rodgers. Rodgers serves on a board appointed by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to oversee the city's economic development agency and is a member of a team that is developing a shopping complex in the Charles-North renewal area.

Efforts to reach Rodgers yesterday were unsuccessful.

The A&R/Harkins venture was the sole bidder. Another developer, New York-based Edmonds Group, submitted a bid but asked that it be returned unopened after an unsuccessful attempt to have HUD, rather than the housing authority, decide who would receive the contract. The Edmonds Group said it feared bias on the part of the housing authority.

Last month, a ceremonial ground-breaking was held at the Lafayette Courts site on the same day that the Lexington Terrace high-rises in West Baltimore were demolished.

Cooke said site work -- principally the relocation of a 36-inch water main running through the middle of the property -- had begun under an "early-start agreement."

Plans call for construction of the rowhouses first, Cooke said.

"If everything goes well, we'd hope to move the first residents in by the end of next year," he said.

Documents filed with HUD by the housing authority say 21 of the rowhouses will be offered for sale, with each having an zTC unfinished basement and two, three or four bedrooms. These units will be along Aisquith Street, which is described as the "gateway to the New Lafayette Courts."

Pub Date: 9/28/96

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