Rolling Out the Welcome Mat

Along the city's Key Highway corridor, projects worth more than $300 million are planned or in progress

January 09, 2000|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,sun architecture critic

Mayor Martin O'Malley says it's a new day in Baltimore.

And there's no better way to catch the spirit of optimism than by driving along the most recently spruced-up gateway to the city, Francis Scott Key Highway.

Now under construction along a one-mile stretch of this corridor -- which hugs the south Baltimore shoreline from the Inner Harbor nearly to Fort McHenry -- are more than $30 million worth of houses. Over the next five years, if all goes according to plan, they will be joined by another $300 million worth of shops, restaurants, offices, condos, rental apartments and museums -- a city within a city along the shoreline.

There is more construction activity under way and planned for this ribbon of roadway than anywhere else in the city. It's Baltimore's Miracle Mile, key to the future of the Locust Point peninsula, a chameleon-esque corridor where the city is reinventing itself and practically anything seems possible.

In many ways, this Avenue of Possibilities can be seen as a template for the city's transformation from an "overgrown tank town," as the writer H.L. Mencken once described Baltimore, to a place where people can live, work and play, all within the same area. "Baltimore has a glorious opportunity created by the geography of the harbor, which brings the waterfront right into the heart of downtown," said C. William Struever, head of the company that is converting the former Procter & Gamble Co. soap-making plant into a $53 million workplace called Tide Point. "I don't think there's anyplace else that has the same intimacy and diversity and excitement -- and all so close to the harbor," Struever said. "We've only begun to see what's possible. Water is a magic thing."

The transformation of South Baltimore's shoreline promises to be especially dramatic over the next several years, said Patrick Turner, head of a group that is spending $4.5 million to open a restaurant in the 1300 block of Key Highway. "This was like Beirut over here," he said. "Now it's going to be one of the prettiest entranceways to the city."

South Baltimore's redevelopment area has two anchors, the 42-acre HarborView community on the north, and the 15-acre Tide Point property on the south. Between them are half a dozen smaller redevelopment sites.

The best way to envision the changes is to walk, jog, bike or drive along Key Highway from Lawrence Street on the south to Light Street on the north -- almost exactly a mile in distance.

The road was reconstructed several years ago at a cost of $9 million to provide a landscaped boulevard into the city from Interstate 95. Already, property owners have announced plans for a dozen new projects on one side or the other. And the pace of change is only likely to accelerate as new uses replace old ones and initial projects trigger spinoffs. "There's no question but that development spurs growth and more development," said Frank Wise, attorney for HarborView Properties Development Co. "The more people there are living down here, the more tax revenues are generated and the more demand there is for jobs and services. ... Each of these things feeds off the other."

The major projects along Key Highway and the south Baltimore shoreline include:

1. Tide Point (14) -- The southern anchor of activity is this former Procter & Gamble Co. plant at 1422 Nicholson St. in Locust Point. Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, a local development and construction firm, bought the property last year and has been converting it to Baltimore's newest office setting at a cost of $53 million.

The development team is working within the shells of the Tide, Joy, Cascade, Ivory and Dawn buildings, all formerly used for soap making. The three-story structures date from 1929 and are in relatively good shape. Struever is recycling them to create 400,000 square feet of office space, with nearly 1,000 parking spaces nearby, and up to 50,000 square feet of related commercial space, such as a copy center, day care center and restaurant.

Design Collective's master plan maintains the industrial character of the buildings while enabling the developer to subdivide and upgrade them for contemporary uses. Cho, Wilks & Benn has developed a plan to create a public park and promenade at the water's edge.

Struever wants to link Tide Point to Key Highway with a $10 million "loop road" and is seeking public funds to pay for it. Until then, employees and visitors can visit Tide Point by driving east on Fort Avenue and north on Hull Street toward the property.

2. Baltimore Museum of Industry (13) -- Located at 1415 Key Highway, the 18-year-old museum has proposed an $8.5 million expansion that would double its size by 2003.

Directors want to build a 500-foot-long pier that would be home for the John W. Brown, a World War II Liberty Ship now berthed in Canton. They also want to use recently acquired property east of the current museum to create a theater and exhibit space.

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