Deal nears closing on harbor project

Offices, apartments would rise on former toxic chemical site

27 acres in Fells Point

Developers envision complex linking key areas of waterfront

June 29, 2000|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Two of Baltimore's best-known development companies are close to a deal to build a $300 million-plus office and apartment complex on a former toxic-waste site that is the largest piece of undeveloped land at the Inner Harbor.

Struever Brothers, Eccles & Rouse and H&S Property Development Corp. say they are in the final stages of negotiating a development agreement with Honeywell Corp., owner of the 27-acre former site of the Allied Signal chrome factory in Fells Point.

The developers are looking at building up to 1.8 million square feet of offices, apartments and shops on the vacant industrial land, which juts out into the harbor and offers panoramic views of the downtown skyline and sailboats cruising past.

The project would link the Inner Harbor with Fells Point and provide a public promenade along the waterfront.

During a kind of post-industrial cocktail party last night, the developers and more than 200 guests sipped white wine and listened to a steel drum band from Trinidad on what was once one of the state's largest pollution containment sites.

The party was intended in part to bid farewell to the tall ships that have been visiting the city as part of the Operation Sail tour, which ends tomorrow.

But it was also meant to reassure the public that if the developers feel confident enough to eat barbecued chicken at the former waste site, the public should feel safe about living there.

"A lot of people in Baltimore have never seen the wonderful views of the city from this site," said Michael Beatty, vice president of the H&S Property Development Corp., which is also building the nearby Inner Harbor East office and hotel complex.

"We want to show people that it's a great place and a safe place," he said.

Allied Signal Corp., purchased by New Jersey-based Honeywell last year, spent nearly $100 million from 1989 to 1999 tearing down the factory, which closed in 1985, and installing a pollution containment system to prevent the escape of cancer-causing hexavalent chromium buried underground.

During its 140-year history of manufacturing chromium that was used to make car hubcaps shine and fireworks sparkle, the chemical leached from the factory into the ground. Four layers of plastic now prevent the buried chemicals from escaping.

C. William Struever, a founder of the company that bears his name, wants to create high-tech offices and apartments on the site as part of his vision of turning Baltimore's industrial harbor into a "digital harbor."

Struever has renovated or signed contracts to buy a ring of dead factories along the waterfront - including plants once owned by Procter & Gamble, American Can Co. and the National Brewery - to convert them into offices for Internet companies and other uses.

"For years, I've seen the Honeywell site as an absolutely terrific place for development - one of the most magical spots on the East Coast," Struever said. "We are still in an early phase, however, and we have many complications that we need to work through."

Among the sticking points: an opinion by the city solicitor's office that the city should not build roads or public parks on the peninsula because it does not want to be held liable, should any future residents sue claiming health problems related to the pollutants.

Another potential problem is traffic. There's only one way into the site - along South Caroline Street - and building a second entrance could cut across the docks of a maritime educational organization called the Living Classrooms Foundation.

Beatty said the developers would not do this without the "100 percent approval" of the foundation, which opposes any bridge cutting across their campus.

Both city and community leaders in Fells Point have already given a preliminary OK to development on the site. The City Council approved a plan in 1993 to allow the construction of office buildings up to 16 stories high, as well as apartments, so long as developers set aside 4.7 acres for public recreational space.

To help negotiate the complexities of the project, Struever Brothers has hired a woman who helped design a 92-acre office and apartment complex atop a waterfront landfill in Lower Manhattan.

Janet Marie Smith, since May the vice president of planning and development for the Struever company, helped develop from 1979 to 1984 Battery Park City in New York, a project that included 1 million square feet of offices, more than 5,000 apartments and a waterfront esplanade.

After that, Smith represented the Orioles during the design and construction of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

She also oversaw construction of Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves, and a 32-acre redevelopment project in downtown Atlanta.

Smith said yesterday that the developers haven't yet drawn up sketches for the mixed-use project on the Honeywell site.

"This is a great location for offices and residential, as well as public open space," Smith said. "Standing out here, you can appreciate that the great views and the open space are more important than anything else."

After the developers and the landowner sign an agreement, they may ask the city to reconsider its position about not building public roads or utility lines on the site, she said.

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