Wave of waterfront projects

Ventures closing gaps between Fells Point and Inner Harbor

April 25, 2000|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Developers are building a bridge between Fells Point and the Inner Harbor.

Three development projects along the Fells Point waterfront could add dozens of townhouses, shops, an office complex and a museum to a rundown stretch of parking lots and vacant buildings that has long discouraged tourists from walking through there to the Inner Harbor.

"Fells Point has become a real hot area for real estate. As long as the developers respect the historic character of this area and provide parking, I think it's great," said Harriet Kohl, president of Fells Point Homeowners Association. She is among the community leaders who think the projects could help link Fells Point to the Inner Harbor, one of the region's tourism success stories.

In one project, Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse development company plans to meet with Fells Point community groups tomorrow to unveil plans to build townhouses and shops on 4.7 acres of empty waterfront land owned by Constellation Real Estate along Thames Street east of Caroline Street.

"This is one of the most outstanding sites in the city," said Steve Koren, a director of Constellation Real Estate, a subsidiary of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. "And we want to work in partnership with Struever Brothers, because they bring a history of success in this area with their American Can Co. complex [in Canton] and other projects."

North of Thames Street, on a city-owned parking lot bounded by Caroline, Lancaster, Dallas and Dock streets, the Baltimore-based engineering firm of Whitman, Requardt and Associates plans to build an 80,000-square-foot, four-story office building with a 320-space parking garage, company officials say.

The 85-year-old engineering firm, which has 270 employees, has grown too large for the six-story building at 2315 St. Paul St. in south Charles Village that has served as its headquarters for decades, said Richard Lortz, the firm's managing partner.

This complex would include a 20,000-square-foot expansion of the Fells Point-based Black Olive restaurant, with a banquet hall, takeout food market, and 10-room inn, said Stelios Spiliadis, an owner of the restaurant.

The 3-year-old Greek restaurant needs to expand beyond its modest space at 814 S. Bond St. in part because the Zagat Survey restaurant guide recently named it one of the country's top three Greek restaurants, said Spiliadis.

"We have been turning away 25 to 30 reservations a night on Friday and Saturday nights, and that has really been hurting me," said Spiliadis. "Hopefully, a year from now, we'll be drinking a glass of wine in what is now nothing but a parking lot."

At the south end of South Caroline street, the Living Classrooms Foundation is building the nation's first museum and education center dedicated to black shipbuilders and sailors.

The $9.1 million Frederick Douglass/Isaac Myers Maritime Park, when complete in spring 2002, will include a working shipyard for the repair of vintage ships and a 23,600-square-foot learning center for young people, according to James Piper Bond, president of the nonprofit educational organization.

Workers have begun replacing the beams and bricks in a crumbling, 130-year-old coffee warehouse on the waterfront that will serve as the museum's center, Bond said.

The education center will feature memorials to Isaac Myers, one of the nation's first black shipyard owners who founded his business nearby after the Civil War, and Frederick Douglass, who worked as a caulker in Fells Point before escaping from slavery to become an internationally known abolitionist.

Ken Strong, executive director of South East Community Organization, which helps to represent Fells Point, said the projects offer promise to the area.

"We are thrilled that these kinds of projects are going on in Southeast Baltimore," said Strong. "They fill in territory between the restaurants and antique stores of Fells Point and the Inner Harbor East development project."

The Inner Harbor East project, led by baking executive John Paterakis Sr., includes the construction of the 32-story Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel, a $130 million tower that is almost complete.

Paterakis and his partners also are building a $55 million hotel, retail and office complex east of the project that will include a 207-room Courtyard by Marriott, 170,000 square feet of office space, a 375-space parking garage and about 35,000 square feet of retail space.

Struever Bros. is giving a presentation on the proposed Thames Street development at 6 p.m. tomorrow in Henderson's Wharf Conference Center at the far south end of Fell Street.

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