`Digital Harbor' to extend under Fells Point plan

URBAN LANDSCAPE

Property: A preliminary proposal calls for residences, offices and shops along Thames Street.

May 04, 2000|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

THE BUSINESSES that make up Baltimore's nascent "Digital Harbor" have been housed mostly in old industrial buildings recycled for new uses.

Now, a local development team is formulating plans to extend the waterfront revitalization by building half a dozen structures that will fill a gap along the Fells Point shoreline while continuing the scale and character of the surrounding historic district.

Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse and Constellation Real Estate are working with the design firm of Cho Benn Holback & Associates to create a master plan that will guide development of 4.7 acres along both sides of Thames Street between Bond and Caroline streets.

Development team members met last week with community representatives to present preliminary plans for the vacant property, which is used primarily for parking.

The proposed development is one of the most ambitious planned for the Fells Point shoreline -- a self-contained "digital village" for the harbor. Preliminary plans call for townhouses, apartments, offices, shops, a hotel and parking in buildings ranging from three to seven stories. The developers will seek City Council approval to construct it in phases as a "planned unit development," a zoning category that allows a mixture of uses.

Linda Lo Cascio, senior development director for Struever Bros., said the team is beginning to meet with public officials to get their reaction to the conceptual plan and that it is subject to change.

"This is literally a first draft," she said. "Everybody's getting a first look at it, and we expect that the design will evolve as we receive their comments."

The preliminary plan calls for:

Five three-story townhouses on the west side of Bond Street, north of Thames Street.

A five-level building or series of buildings on the south side of the 1600 block of Thames St., with street-level shops and upper-level offices, totaling 242,500 square feet. It would rise in place of the old Terminal Warehouse, which Constellation took down in 1992.

A five-level structure on the south side of Thames Street containing shops and street-level parking and about 75 residences. Some of the residences might be "townhouse-style" dwellings, with separate entrances off an upper-level plaza.

A seven-level apartment building on the south side of Thames Street, near Caroline Street, with street-level commercial space and about 83 apartments.

A four-level, 112-room hotel, triangular in plan, on the north side of Thames Street between Bond and Caroline streets.

A five-level, 608-car garage on the east side of Caroline Street, south of Dock Street. The plan provides 786 parking spaces, in the garage and elsewhere on the Constellation site. Developers have calculated that 779 spaces are legally required to accommodate the proposed development.

Lo Cascio said she was reluctant to discuss costs until the project was further along. She said the developers hope to begin site work by year's end and that the three parcels south of Thames Street most likely would be the first phase of development.

Renderings by Cho Benn Holback indicate that the buildings will be clad in brick and spaced to preserve "view corridors" between Thames Street and the waterfront. Lo Cascio said the team hopes to create commercial space at the base of most of the buildings as a way to continue the retail character of Fells Point.

Constellation has owned the land since 1987. It will remain a partner in the project but chose Struever Bros. to lead the team because of its successful record in development, said Jim Callahan, vice president of Constellation Real Estate.

Developer Bill Struever uses the phrase "Digital Harbor" to describe the phenomenon in which industrial-age buildings and new structures around Baltimore's harbor are becoming hubs for high-technology companies. He believes the trend will continue to draw people to the city -- and not just the water's edge.

The Fells Point project is one of several that will be developed under the guidance of architect Janet Marie Smith, who joined Struever Bros. this week as its "in-house urban design guru." Smith represented the Orioles during the design and construction of Oriole Park at Camden Yards and most recently was president of Turner Sports and Entertainment Development in Atlanta.

Struever's company tried to buy the Fells Point property in the 1980s but was outbid by Constellation. "We're delighted to have a chance to come back and take another look at what we think can be a fantastic opportunity," Struever said.

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