Pratt project ready to rise

750 E.

15-story building atop substation could house BGE

The race to put up offices

January 23, 2001|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

The first of several new buildings proposed for the city's central business district is about to break ground and become the first major office development in about a decade.

The 15-story building, a top-tier, modern glass tower that will fit atop the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. substation on Pratt Street, could become the next headquarters for the utility or its parent company, Constellation Energy Group Inc., according to sources familiar with the deal.

Willard Hackerman will lead the development group, which plans to break ground in the spring and open some offices by November 2002. Hackerman's Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., which is not part of that group, will be the general contractor.

Constellation did not confirm a relocation, but a spokesman said the company plans to sell the air rights above the substation to developers. Constellation and its subsidiaries are currently occupying at least three downtown buildings and expect to maintain corporate headquarters in the city.

Real estate experts say it has become a race for developers to open first in the central business district and lure companies squeezed in their current offices or looking to move downtown. There is also pressure to build before the economy slows too much and financing dries up.

"We are ready to go, and that could give us an eight- to 12-month head start," said Robert A. Manekin, a principal at Manekin Brothers Abeshouse, the commercial real estate firm leasing the space. "There is a window of opportunity and finite number of users who are going to want and need new Class A facilities."

Manekin said the building will be a model of modern amenities, from efficient heating-ventilation-air conditioning to telecommunications infrastructure. The office's architectural firm, RTKL Associates Inc., described it as a signature building in the eastern gateway to downtown.

The real estate firm is not involved in negotiations for the anchor tenant and couldn't confirm there was one. But Manekin said he expects to have about half the 293,000 square feet of office space to lease. There will also be close to 30,000 square feet of retail space in a "sky lobby" on the floor above the substation.

That will connect to the Harbor Park garage, which Hackerman controls and plans to expand to accommodate the office tenants.

The site at 750 E. Pratt St. used to be off the beaten path, but as development continues around the harbor, it has become more central to big business. It's also on the road to Inner Harbor East, where several H&S Properties Development Corp. projects have opened or are planned.

H&S plans a 650,000-square- foot office building near its new Baltimore Waterfront Marriott Hotel. That building still needs to receive site and design approvals from the city. Height restrictions in the area are expected to be a major hurdle.

In the traditional central business district, another project that is expected to break ground soon is an office-retail development on the campus of the Baltimore City Community College. Lockwood Associates expects to start on the parking and retail portions in June.

The lead partner in the development group, Kravco Co., has not signed on an office developer. Wayne Snyder, chairman of Kravco, said the company has been negotiating with a developer and is close to announcing a deal.

That could put another 250,000 square feet of space in downtown's office market - in addition to a 160,000-square-foot building that the Cordish Co. plans next to the Power Plant on Pier 4.

Each of the projects would take at least 18 months to construct, but the substation project appears closest to getting started.

"The city should have more space," said Snyder. "I think there's room for all three" in the central business district.

Real estate experts have expressed concern about the H&S office project. An oversupply of space in the Baltimore and nearby areas in the early 1990s sent rents plummeting and some owners into financial distress.

None of the projects have announced tenants, but H&S officials said they would begin building without them.

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