Days are numbered at Southern Hotel Redevelopment: After a decade of planning, developers expect to begin razing the landmark Southern Hotel later this year -- with the blessing of the city's preservationists.

October 09, 1998|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

Nearly 10 years after Baltimore redevelopment officials first approved demolition of the Southern Hotel, the building's days finally appear to be numbered.

Baltimore's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation recently agreed not to hold up demolition of the landmark 84-year-old hotel, a decision that clears the way for construction of a $120 million, 35-story hotel and office complex called One Light Street.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke announced that the project is moving ahead during the annual meeting of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore. "It's going to happen," the mayor said. "It's not in the [distant] future. It's going to happen."

The vacant Southern Hotel is one of six buildings that are targeted for demolition to make way for the Light Street development, which will occupy the area bounded by Light, Redwood, Baltimore and Grant streets.

The developers, a group headed by an affiliate of Capital Guidance Corp. of Geneva, Switzerland, assembled the parcel in the late 1980s and have been searching for lead office tenants since then. They have allowed present tenants to stay in the other buildings on Light and Baltimore streets until construction is ready to begin.

Earlier this month, the developers notified tenants of the still-occupied buildings that they need to move out by the end of the year -- another sign that construction is about to begin.

"We think this block is a key to the revitalization of the heart of Baltimore's business district, and we're trying to make it the most state-of-the-art center of business that you can find in any American city," said J. Joseph Clarke, the development team's local representative.

With a 660-car garage, 267-suite hotel, street-level shops and 385,000 square feet of office space, One Light Street is "a $120 million expression of new faith in downtown Baltimore," he said.

Clarke said the development team plans to sell the hotel portion of the project to FelCor Lodging Trust Inc. of Dallas, the largest owner of Embassy Suites hotels, and still wants to sign up a lead office tenant before it begins construction.

While the team looks for tenants, he said, it wants to begin clearing the site, starting with the 1914 hotel at 7 to 11 Light St. Other buildings that would be demolished include the office tower at 5 Light St. and four structures in the 100 block of E. Baltimore St.

Clarke said he hopes to start razing the Southern Hotel by the end of the year and then move ahead with demolition of the neighboring buildings in early 1999. He said it will take about four months to clear the site and another 20 months to construct the replacement tower, putting its opening in early 2001.

Of the six buildings targeted for demolition, the Southern Hotel is the only one protected by landmark status. Baltimore's preservation commission held public hearings on the demolition request in 1989 and issued a notice to proceed with demolition that year, but the building was not torn down because the proposed project was not funded. The developers removed asbestos and interior walls in 1993 but left the shell standing. Although city demolition permits typically expire within two years of issuance, the preservation commission in this case has opted to let this one stand.

Clarke has argued that the building is less structurally sound now than it was in 1993, is not generating income, and is not economically feasible to renovate. He says the replacement building, designed by Peter Fillat Architects, will add life to the central business district during and after business hours, with its mix of office space and hotel suites.

Preservation commission chairman Judith Miller said the group is satisfied that the vacant hotel can't be saved and that the replacement building will be an improvement.

"What we are anxious to see on that important corner is a building that is in use and vibrant and adding to the economic stability of the city," she said. "Everybody is pretty excited about the opportunity to get something going after all these years."

Pub Date: 10/09/98

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