250 units proposed for top of garage

Lexington Market lofts would target young

June 30, 2000|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

You wouldn't have to walk far for oysters and beer if you rented one of these lofts.

A Philadelphia-based development company is proposing to build an 11-story, 250-unit apartment tower on top of the Lexington Market parking garage at Paca and Saratoga streets.

The project, which would cost more than $30 million, is designed to attract graduate students from the nearby University of Maryland, Baltimore who might want the fun and convenience of living above the 218-year-old food market.

"Many students and young professionals don't like to cook," said architect Ed Hord of Baltimore-based Hord, Coplan & Macht, which is designing the project for Pennrose Properties Inc. of Philadelphia.

"As the whole west side of downtown Baltimore is redeveloped by the city, we think this will be a great opportunity to build on the area's success and create more business for the Lexington Market at the same time," said Hord.

The proposal is in the early stages and needs to be approved by the Lexington Market Inc. board, which runs the market and its garages.

City officials say an apartment tower would be a major boost for the city-led $350 million effort to revitalize downtown's west side. The project would attempt to breathe new life into the struggling retail district by building hundreds of apartments to create a neighborhood-like atmosphere.

The interest by Pennrose, one of Pennsylvania's largest residential development companies, is an important vote of confidence in the urban renewal project, city officials said.

Pennrose is the fifth major development group to gamble on the future of the west side, which some have said is risky. The company follows the Weinberg Foundation, A&R Development Inc., Bank of America and Southern Management, which are building stores and apartments in the area.

"We've learned there's a lot of interest in housing downtown, not just from students but from young professionals and empty nesters," said Sharon Grinnell, chief operating officer of Baltimore Development Corp., which is leading the area's redevelopment.

Pennrose was the only company to respond by the March 12 deadline to Lexington Market Inc.'s Dec. 19 request for proposals to build apartments or offices above the market's 1,182-vehicle western garage, said Leonard Jaslow, general manager of the market.

The company must come back to the market's board with a feasibility study to demonstrate its concept, Jaslow said. The market board needs to be convinced that the project would not hurt business during construction or reduce parking for merchants and customers, he said.

Proposal must work

"We like the concept of residential or offices over the parking garage," Jaslow said. "But now Pennrose has got to show us that their proposal would work. They haven't done that yet."

Lexington Market also plans a $3 million face lift that would add larger windows to the market, and new restrooms, lighted signs and a balcony for outdoor dining.

A block away, at Howard and Lexington streets, Southern Management has begun a $15 million conversion of the former Hecht's department store into a 173-unit apartment building.

In the Lexington Market project, Pennrose Corp.'s sketches show an 11-story, C-shaped building with balconies and a swimming pool in a courtyard facing south from atop the garage.

The garage is three stories tall, and the developers would build three or four more stories of parking on top of that. The apartments would rise from there, Hord said.

The 250 apartments, for which rates were not available, would be in the style of loft units in renovated warehouses and industrial buildings around the city, such as Tindeco Wharf in Canton.

The apartments would have high ceilings, large windows and exposed ventilation ducts, pipes and beams, Hord said.

"Lofts have proven very successful with young people, and we'd like to work with that but also do something that's a little bit out of the ordinary," he said.

Familiar formula

Ronald M. Kreitner, general manager of West Side Renaissance Inc., which is helping to promote the neighborhood's redevelopment, said he thinks it's a great idea to use the air rights above the parking garage.

A&R Development Corp. used a similar formula to build the 151-unit Redwood Towers at 11 S. Eutaw St. above a city-owned garage. That building opened in January and is 75 percent leased.

"I think the west Lexington Market garage presents a major development opportunity for the west side," said Kreitner, former director of the Maryland Office of Planning. "It's a large site, centrally located, and I think that either residential or offices there would have considerable potential."

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