BCCC's harbor project makes progress slowly $90 million complex stalled by bureaucracy, legal challenges

Development

December 27, 1998|By Kevin L. McQuaid | Kevin L. McQuaid,SUN STAFF

Park America Inc.'s days warehousing cars at 500 E. Pratt St. may be numbered, but at this point, no one knows exactly what that number is.

Six months after Baltimore City Community College unveiled grand plans for a $90 million complex to replace a surface parking lot there, it remains only an asphalt monument to possibilities.

BCCC and a Philadelphia developer would like to turn the 240-space lot -- the last undeveloped tract of land near the Inner Harbor -- into a commercial mecca, complete with shopping mall, office tower, hotel and parking garage.

At the same time, BCCC and Kravco Corp. hope their Lockwood Place project serves as a slingshot for development east of the harbor, connecting Harborplace, the Power Plant and the National Aquarium to the new Port Discovery children's museum, the Brokerage and Inner Harbor East.

And it might -- if it can survive potential legal challenges and state bureaucracy, and manage to lure tenants and obtain financing.

The project's initial phases have not been easy. It is already four months behind schedule, stemming in part from state procurement rules that govern the hiring of consultants.

There has been progress, though. his month, BCCC retained Stonebridge Associates, a Bethesda real estate consultant, to review a Kravco feasibility study.

That followed a City Council amendment Dec. 7 to Baltimore's urban renewal plan that eliminated height and setback restrictions and a limitation that the property be used only for educational purposes.

The Kravco team also recently approached the city's economic development agency about obtaining tax breaks for Lockwood Place's 711-space parking garage and possibly its 278-room hotel.

"We want Kravco to be successful, and if a subsidy is required to make the project successful, then we would support them in that," said Barbara Hopkins, a BCCC spokeswoman.

If granted, a "payment in lieu of taxes" could be worth millions of dollars to the developers.

"We're just getting into an in-depth analysis of the material they gave us," said M. J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development agency. "So we really can't comment on it at this point."

Analysts say that persuading the city to provide tax breaks will be an arduous climb, because more than a few city officials blame BCCC for the pending loss downtown of Piper & Marbury, the state's largest law firm.

Piper & Marbury signed a lease to relocate from 36 S. Charles St. to Mount Washington after BCCC rejected a plan from a Connecticut firm that wanted to construct office space and parking on the site. Piper & Marbury had signed on to be the lead tenant in the project.

In the meantime, BCCC officials and Kravco are meeting to finalize a development agreement, which they hope to conclude next month and submit to the state's Board of Public Works for approval in March, Hopkins said. If obtained, construction would start sometime next year.

BPW's blessing isn't assured. The Cordish Co., whose plans to develop the BCCC site as retail, parking and office space also were rejected in favor of Kravco, intends to mount an appeal before the three-member board.

"Our appeal is most definitely continuing," said David S. Cordish, chairman of the Baltimore real estate firm that redeveloped the Power Plant and has been commissioned to overhaul both the Brokerage and the Pier Six Concert Pavilion.

Cordish contends that BCCC violated state law when it chose Kravco, because the Philadelphia firm's project won't "maximize revenue" to the school as required.

While Kravco met the college's $1.1 million-a-year demand for rent from any development, Cordish offered to top all bidders by 10 percent, and would guarantee a minimum $1.3 million a year to BCCC.

The parking lot generates $775,000 a year in revenue.

BCCC counters that the Kravco project would generate a steadier income. The college's trustees also claim that Kravco xTC offered scholarships and other nonfinancial incentives that aided their selection. Both Cordish and PDL Investment Co. of Connecticut say their proposals also included internship programs.

Even if the BPW hurdle is cleared, Kravco still faces the thorny issue of securing tenants.

So far, no tenants have been signed, although both Kravco and Miller Corporate Real Estate Services LLC, a local firm retained to line up businesses for the project's 10-story office component, say "significant interest" exists.

"We have tenants that are ready to step up and sign letters of intent for the office space, but Kravco has yet to clear all of its hurdles with the community college," said Milton H. Miller Jr., a Miller Corporate Real Estate principal.

"So at this point, we couldn't do a letter of intent or a lease," Miller added. "But I'm not concerned, because we've had so much interest and it's such a great site."

Pub Date: 12/27/98

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