Gallery Tower adds to apartment boom

Housing: Gallery Tower, which has its grand opening today, contains the first of nearly 1,200 apartments coming to downtown.

May 13, 1999|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

With accolades usually reserved for a retail giant or corporate employer, downtown Baltimore will dust off its welcome mat today for its newest resident -- a 144-unit apartment building.

The 21-story Gallery Tower Apartment Homes at 111 W. Centre St. will hold its grand opening today. It is the first of nearly a dozen apartment projects that would add about 1,200 apartment units to 3,000 units that already exist -- and usually have a waiting list attached.

Nearly 500 apartments will be completed or under construction by the end of this year, and 600 more are planned for 2000, said the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc., a public-private economic development group that is spearheading the housing renaissance.

City economic development officials said the apartment boom will play a key role in downtown Baltimore's economic success.

Primarily, it will help convert old, vacated office buildings into living quarters generating tax dollars and other revenue for downtown retail businesses and restaurants.

Gallery Tower was an apartment building that had been vacant for three years before Southern Management Corp. in Vienna, Va., bought it last year.

"The building was a total wreck, just a shell of a building," said Ron Frank, Southern's president.

The $7.5 million project was "expensive, but there's a renaissance going on around the country, and particularly in Baltimore, where people want to move from the suburbs to downtown to be closer to their work," he said.

"We're trying to take advantage of that," Frank said.

Southern Management entered the Baltimore market in 1994 with the acquisition of Charles Towers. It now owns 10 apartment communities here, including the Marlboro Apartments at Lombard and Paca streets, and Horizon House at Calvert and Chase streets.

It is also the developer of the Hecht Co. building at Howard and Lexington streets, which will be converted into 173 apartments.

Laurie Schwartz, president of the Downtown Partnership, is optimistic that the new projects will build demand.

"Gallery Tower is the first sip from a glass," she said.

After completing a 1995 study quantifying the demand for downtown housing, the Downtown Partnership started the Downtown Housing Initiative to increase the number of downtown apartment units by 1,000 by June 2000.

Another project under construction is the 151-unit Redwood Towers at 11 S. Eutaw St. by A&R Development. The $17.2 million project is expected to be completed by January.

In 1991, A&R had planned to build the apartment building on top of a city-owned, eight-story garage it constructed, but decided the market would not support the project, said Tony Rodgers, A&R's development manager.

"The project was speculative at the time, but the demand for downtown housing today is outstanding," Rodgers said.

"We are all supportive of everyone else's projects."

Also in the hopper is the transformation of the old Congress Hotel at 306-316 W. Franklin St. into 36 apartments.

The conversions of the Abell building at 333 W. Baltimore St. into 40 units and the Stanbalt building at 501 St. Paul St. into 165 units are expected to begin by the end of the year.

Also planned is the conversion of the former YMCA building at 300 N. Charles St. into 36 apartment units by Savannah Development Corp. The company said it received a $3 million loan yesterday for the $6 million project that is to open in March.

In the meantime, Gallery Tower "has been a success and we haven't even opened yet," said Frank, of Southern Management. The Tower has pre-leased 44 of its units, he said.

The high-rise has just one-bedroom apartments that rent for $725 to $790. The building features a business center with fax, copiers and computers for residents, a 24-hour fitness center, a valet dry-cleaning service and a rooftop deck and swimming pool.

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