Close to the action Downtown living: Proposed 16-story apartment tower underscores location is everything.

August 14, 1997

IT IS EASY to understand why a Washington developer is eager to build the first high-rise apartment building in Baltimore's central business district in more than a decade. The corner of Howard and Lombard streets -- near an expanding University of Maryland campus, Camden Yards and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway -- is in an area where most existing rental complexes are fully occupied with long waiting lists.

This project by Quadrangle Development Corp., a big Washington player that has not been previously active in Baltimore, is of bellwether significance for two reasons. If the 271-unit scheme happens without hitches, it should encourage other builders to look at unmet downtown rental needs. And since the renovation of an 1886 cast-iron building is part of the plan, the project also could trigger more interest in the conversion of old, underutilized or vacant offices to residential space.

Until now, there has been much talk and little action about developing more market-rate housing downtown. A case in point is the plan to convert several commercial buildings in the 400 block of Howard Street into artists' housing. This was to have been a cornerstone for the mayor's Avenue of the Arts.

The idea does not seem to be any closer to realization today than it was several years ago when Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke first introduced it. This inaction is particularly harmful because fires in 1995 destroyed two important studio centers, forcing dozens of artists to look elsewhere for work and living space.

Quadrangle Development Corp.'s 16-story tower would further strengthen the area near the University of Maryland, Baltimore downtown campus, which is in the midst of a physical expansion that has cost several hundred million dollars. Indeed, campus operations ranging from a hospital center to professional schools, are the generators of much of the currently unmet demand for apartments.

The university has made it clear it wants to expand to the east. Its need for convenient student housing are so great, however, that it ought to also link itself more closely with the rowhouse communities on the west side of the Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Pub Date: 8/14/97

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