Luxury for Fells Point

New career: Kris Olafsson is converting a historical warehouse into townhouses

February 13, 2000|By Charles Cohen | Charles Cohen,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Kris Olafsson has been many things in his 34 years. A soldier in the Army. A guitarist for a progressive rock band. A school psychologist. And he's rehabbed a couple of homes in Harford County.

Versatile? Certainly.

Business savvy? Seems so.

But was he ready to convert an early 19th-century Fells Point warehouse into five luxury townhouses? You bet.

In 1996, Olafsson spotted a for-sale sign on the building at Wolfe and Aliceanna streets and suddenly he was off on another career.

FOR THE RECORD - A photograph on Page 2L in the Feb. 13 Real Estate section misidentified Steven Hessler of B&H Development. The Sun regrets the error.

The property, used as a tobacco warehouse and most recently as a musicians' rehearsal studio, certainly wasn't much to look at -- and still isn't with its blocked up windows and stripped innards.

But come this spring Olafsson hopes to unveil five upscale townhouses called Aliceanna Point.

Since November, he has gone from daydreamer to real estate visionary. He has joined forces with a clique of seasoned builders, contractors and real estate agents, who have created a new market for high-priced homes in trendy Fells Point and Canton .

"If you stand on the outside it's a huge beautiful building although it doesn't look that way," said Olafsson. "The trick in real estate is to see the potential and be an optimist."

If mortgage rates take a breather from their upward trend and the economy remains healthy, then Aliceanna Point should be one of the hottest new residential offerings on the market.

"I don't think that [high-end] market has been represented [in Fells Point] in the past," Olafsson said. "The demand is there obviously, so we are [satisfying] that demand."

This latest real estate gambit may be the wildest detour yet for a guy who had embarked on a run at being a professional musician only to settle down three years ago to pursue a doctorate in psychology while working as a psychologist in the Baltimore school system.

"It is a big task for him to handle with a job right now," said Steve Hessler of B & H Builders, who is the project manager. "I'm pretty proud of him right now."

Olafsson also teamed up with architect Ken Hart of Gant Hart Brunnett Architects on Mulberry Street. Hart's plan calls for the warehouse to be converted into a trio of three-story townhouses, plus a pair of two-story townhouses.

The finished warehouse also will contain a street-level garage for all five houses. Overall, the interior space will be expanded by 5,000 square feet to 20,000 square feet.

The five residences will range in size from a 3,500-square-foot home for $350,000 to a 2,500-square-foot unit for $239,000.

"When you walk into something that was once an old tobacco warehouse you should have some sense of its history rather than a suburban home where it's all cleaned up," Hart said.

Four of the five townhouses will have a courtyard. All will have roof-top decks and each of the floors will be tiered to allow skylights at each level.

Four bedrooms

The largest unit will have four bedrooms and 3 1/2 baths. A master bedroom, with large walk-in closets and a glass-block shower enclosure with soaking tub,takes up the third floor.

The two other three-story units will feature three bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths. All will have living room,dining room combinations with oak floors and staircases leading to dens and offices.

The two-story houses on Wolfe Street also will have three bedrooms, plus dens and a living room/dining room combination.

Three of the four townhouses will have patios. The largest home misses the patio, but gains a large first-floor family room, with a 20-foot-high ceiling and a wine cellar.

Olafsson said he isn't new to the real estate trade. He has rehabbed two homes in Harford County, but even those who have spent decades in the Baltimore renewal trade, say the Aliceanna project is in a different league , melding a contemporary design into a very old, very large building.

"There are some of the biggest beams I've ever seen," Hessler said. "We have to relocate some of the beams or expose some of the beams."

Used credit cards

Olaffson paid $210,000 for the building with financial help from the owner as well as $11,000 he charged on his credit cards to help pay for closing costs.

He almost thought the purchase price was beyond his means until the real estate agent suggested that he could easily get $800 by renting out the warehouse's old garage in an area starved for parking.

That would have satisfied nearly half his monthly $2,000 mortgage payment.

After minor renovations, he began earning money from the rehearsal space and recording studio. Maybe one day, he thought, he would turn the warehouse into office space.

"My idea was to purchase and build a music studio because Fells Point is already really good for music in my opinion," he said.

Olafsson loved the idea of owning the 15,000-square-foot warehouse. He loved the idea of owning property in the wharf-side community that inspired him as a young man.

But it wasn't until Olafsson was ready to sell the warehouse 18 months ago that he started to explore the possibilities of residential development.

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