Bonds, banter and bank shots The Coleman Craten Financial Club will offer clients an innovative place to unwind and, the investment firm hopes, bring in more business.

November 15, 1998|By Kevin L. McQuaid | Kevin L. McQuaid,SUN STAFF

An article in Sunday's Business section incorrectly reported that the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore said financial, real estate and insurance jobs have grown by 15 percent in the past year. In fact, only financial services jobs increased by that number.

The Sun regrets the error.

I'd like a vodka and cranberry and 100 shares of Coca-Cola, please."

While the talk may not be urbane, Baltimore financial junkies will soon have a new hangout to scan corporate annual reports, do securities research, watch Wall Street's gyrations on television and grab a sandwich or a drink at the same time.

But the Coleman Craten Financial Club won't be just another posh social setting filled with soft leather chairs, rich carpeting and expensive suits.


Scheduled to open on the ground floor of 7 E. Redwood St. downtown early next month as part of a comprehensive renovation of the 73-year-old building, the club's owners envision it as an investment-oriented place where members can buy and sell stocks or bonds, plan their estates or seek advice on where to invest.

Its owners tout the club as the first of its kind in the United States, modeled after a similar haunt in London.

"Baltimore is a very clubby town," said Monica L. Coleman, the firm's 42-year-old managing partner and a Baltimore native who graduated from the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland Law School.

"We have the Center Club, the Marketing Club, the Maryland Club; there's a club for everything. So we believe there's a need and that Baltimore can sustain a financial club, too."

Like the Maryland Club and others catering to high-wealth individuals, though, the Coleman Craten financial retreat will offer at least a few accouterments considered traditional in such tony environs. And like the Maryland Club, the Coleman Craten club will have a hint of exclusivity: In the near term, at least, membership will be limited to Coleman Craten clients and their guests.

Coleman acknowledges that she hopes the club will act as a magnet for Coleman Craten's stock brokerage and financial planning operations, which began in March.

If all goes according to plan, clients will do their research and have fun in the club downstairs, and then move to offices upstairs to get down to business.

And as with American Express, membership will have its privileges. In addition to the tuxedo-clad doorman, members will have use of an in-house restaurant and bar, billiard tables and a library stocked with 23,000 financial prospectuses, annual reports and other literature.

And of course, no modern financial club would be complete without a "stress reduction room," where frazzled investors can take classes in tai chi, kick boxing and other techniques to eliminate stress.

Coleman and senior partner John G. Craten, 51, hope to distinguish the club by making it a quasi-working setting, filled with Internet-wired computers, Bloomberg and Morningstar monitors that serve as electronic libraries for public companies and mutual funds, televisions broadcasting CNBC and conference rooms.

Downstairs, the duo plan to add touches from the New York Stock Exchange. Coleman Craten financial specialists in red jackets will be available to give advice to members and answer questions.

Coleman Craten is also working to turn the building's vault -- the second-largest downtown -- into a kind of financial museum, with displays of rare stock certificates and other valuable documents on loan from various sources.

But to fully envelop visitors in the club's ambience, Coleman Craten is painstakingly restoring 7 E. Redwood St.'s first two floors -- a former First National Bank of Maryland branch that has been closed for five years.

Woodwork is being restored, antique-looking paint is being applied, chandeliers polished, and marble blasted clean, all to make the property look as it did when it opened in 1925.

$300,000 project

The firm expects the renovation work to cost more than $300,000. Although some of the cost is being absorbed by the city through a standard tenant improvement allowance, Coleman and Craten are funding most of the work, Coleman said.

The city, which bought the 20-story building two years ago for $5.6 million as part of a deal to keep Legg Mason Inc.'s headquarters downtown, is also hoping Coleman Craten will help spur a turnaround of downtown's sleepy financial district.

"It'll put real life and activity to the first floor of the building, which has been one of our goals since we acquired it," said M. J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development agency.

That life could spread, especially if plans for a $120 million skyscraper across the street at the site of the Southern Hotel reach fruition. Developers there are working on a 35-story tower that will include offices, a 267-room hotel, parking garage and retail space.

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