REVITALIZATION efforts along Baltimore's North Charles Street corridor received a boost this month when new owners began a $6.5 million renovation of the Queen Anne Belvedere apartments near the University of Baltimore's midtown campus.
Stanley Keyser of Keyser Development Corp. leads a local group that has acquired 16 properties in and around the 1200 block of N. Charles St. -- one of the few intact rows of Queen Anne-style buildings in Baltimore.
By next summer, Keyser and his partners plan to complete 76 upper-level apartments designed for University of Baltimore students and others who want affordable housing.
The 100,000-square-foot development also will include eight street-level commercial spaces and parking for 50 cars in the university-owned garage at Maryland Avenue and Biddle Street.
When complete, it will be the first large-scale residential project undertaken with the direct involvement of University Properties, a nonprofit subsidiary of the University of Baltimore's Educational Foundation.
Development team members say the apartments won't be exclusively for students but will be promoted on campus.
"We thought it was a natural extension of the campus for the university to get into housing," Keyser said this week. "It had the law school and the business school and so on, but the missing link was housing."
The refurbished apartments fit with Gov. Parris N. Glendening's Smart Growth initiatives to invest in urban areas and will help the midtown campus compete with its peers throughout the state, said University of Baltimore President H. Mebane Turner.
"From the university's point of view, we see this as a means of rehabilitating the area and providing housing at a reasonable cost to our students," Turner said. "That stabilizes the university and the neighborhood. [Other universities] have been building residence halls left and right. This helps level the playing field."
Other partners in the development team include Mercantile Safe Deposit and Trust Co. and Monumental Life Insurance Co. Kann & Associates is the architect, and Southway Builders is the general contractor.
The partnership was chosen over three groups that bid to develop the property several years ago, after previous owners defaulted on a city-backed loan.
On Nov. 29, the group took title to the even-numbered properties from 1204 to 1224 N. Charles St. by paying off an $800,000 first mortgage and a $300,000 second mortgage. Construction began shortly afterward.
The team also purchased five nearby buildings and consolidated them with the ones along Charles Street. They include 1200 and 1202 N. Charles St., which sold for $275,000, and three former stables on Morton Street, which sold for $175,000.
The project entails renovation of the upper-level apartments to provide new heating and air-conditioning systems, sprinklers, new kitchens and bathrooms and other amenities. Plans call for 13 efficiencies; 28 one-bedroom units; two one-bedroom-and-den units; 27 two-bedroom units; five two-bedroom-and-den units; and a three-bedroom unit. Monthly rents will range from $395 to $745.
The team also will repair the deteriorated stonework on the Charles Street side; construct a two-story lobby accessible from Charles Street; create a secure mid-block green space for use by tenants, and replace certain 1970s-era bay windows and storefronts with ones more in keeping with the original architecture of the buildings, which date from the 1880s.
Keyser said the work has been designed to comply with federal standards for historical preservation. The buildings will stay on the tax rolls, generating $49,000 a year in taxes.
"This is a historic restoration," Keyser said. "The key to making this project work is that we have qualified for a tax credit [for historic preservation] of $1.5 million. Our goal is to save what's good and modernize what's missing."
This is the second major restoration for the 1200 block, which was built as upscale residences. The buildings from 1204 to 1224 were connected and rehabilitated in the 1970s by the Henry A. Knott Remodeling Co., but the project ran into financial problems by the mid-1990s. The apartments have been vacant since September, but street-level commercial spaces are occupied and will remain open.
In the fall, the university had 4,600 students, and 150 lived in the same ZIP code. A recent survey indicated another 300 to 350 would live near the campus if affordable housing were available.
Turner said he hopes to create more student housing. "This is an experiment right now, and we think it's going to be very successful," he said. "As long as we can rehabilitate other facilities, we're going to try to do it."