Heavy hitters weigh in at demolishing building

Mayor and governor work levers of power on Howard Street


June 24, 2000|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening took the controls of some heavy construction equipment yesterday to help clear the way for a new office, retail and residential complex on North Howard Street, almost two years after announcing the $30 million project.

Glendening and Mayor Martin O'Malley took turns with a John Deere excavator at what was once the home of Baltimore Life Insurance. The Mass Transit Administration bought the 901 N. Howard St. building in 1990 but vacated it after asbestos was discovered. The city and state plan to subsidize the complex through a long-term lease on the land, money for a garage and help with utilities.

"We can't just have people working here, we need people living here," O'Malley said before working the controls to chew off a doorway overhang. The symbolic gesture begins a project that will "infill a no-man's land with people," he said.

A&R Development Corp., which won a competitive bid for the project, said it will be the first tenant in the office space.

No other tenants have been signed, but Del T. Adams, development manager, said the company and its bank were confident enough to build without other leases.

A&R plans to occupy 8,000 to 10,000 square feet in one of two planned 60,000-square- foot office buildings. About 24,000 square feet of that will be reserved for restaurants and shops.

Rents for the office space have not been determined, but are expected to come in well under downtown's top rates, generally in the upper $20s a square foot.

Adams said the developers would like to lure an upscale restaurant, a pub or mid- priced restaurant, outdoor cafe, and possibly office-support businesses such as copy services.

The restaurants could benefit from the nearby Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and Lyric Opera House, Adams said, and add life to the cultural district.

A 135-unit apartment building will not be "high end," Adams said, but nice enough to attract professionals and graduate students from the neighboring University of Baltimore and elsewhere. One- and two-bedroom residences are expected to rent for $700 to $900.

A&R and the public officials touted the project as a model of redevelopment. It will put almost six acres back on the tax rolls, clean up an eyesore and tie together the Mount Vernon and Bolton Hill neighborhoods, they said.

The site is near the Cultural Center light-rail stop and officials expect the people who live and work in the redeveloped Howard Street buildings to use public transportation to go downtown, to the ballpark and to the suburbs.

That qualified the project as a Smart Growth neighborhood, the governor said.

The state plans to grant close to $4 million to build a 450-space parking garage that officials hope will prompt more people to park and ride.

The state also will lease the land for 50 years at $60,000 a year to A&R, which will have options to renew, said Anthony Brown of the Mass Transit Administration.

The Howard Street project is expected to be completed by 2004.

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