Baltimore architect Leo D'Aleo has joined a chorus of people who believe young professionals want to live downtown and plans to turn another of the city's old buildings into rental apartments.
D'Aleo wants to convert the eight-story building at 222 E. Saratoga St. into 77 loft-style apartments and an 80-space garage.
The former tannery has been vacant since 1987, when the city Department of Housing and Community Development left.
D'Aleo is to present the project today to the city's Design Advisory Panel, one of the official stops in gaining municipal approval. The project, known as Saratoga Court, also needs site plan approval.
"It survived. Now it's going to get another rebirth," the architect said of the 91-year-old concrete warehouse building.
D'Aleo, who has a contract to buy the building for an undisclosed amount, said the sellers are a group of investors led by officials at W. F. Gebhardt & Co., a local commercial real estate firm.
Altogether, he expects to spend $7 million to $8 million on the project, which could break ground in the summer and open in the spring of 2002. Rents for the one- and two-bedroom apartments are expected to be market rate, starting at about $900 a month.
The project will fill a need for residents and the city, said David P. Scheffenacker Jr., president of Preston Partners Inc., the commercial real estate services firm that's trying to line up financing for the project.
"If you go across the country and look at strong cities, there is a large base of employees that live there," he said. "And any time you can turn an old building into something that makes sense economically and fundamentally from a real estate standpoint, it means nothing but good things for the city."
More downtown residents could help ease the shortage of parking for commuters, he added.
The project will join at least two other proposed apartment conversions downtown, the Stanbalt building at 501 St. Paul St. and the Munsey building at 5 N. Calvert St.
The several dozen apartment buildings in the greater downtown area have few vacancies, said Michele L. Whelley, president of the Downtown Partnership, a business group that has been encouraging apartment buildings there.
"We can't find enough buildings to convert to housing," she said. "The housing market is incredibly strong."
D'Aleo plans to seek a 10-year city tax abatement for the project under a program aimed at encouraging the renovation of commercial buildings into housing.
The 3-year-old program is part of the city's payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, scheme.
A veteran rehabber and developer, D'Aleo has worked on other projects in Baltimore, such as City Hall, the Colonnade and Scarlett Place.
D'Aleo considered other uses for the Saratoga Street property, but housing seemed to be the best prospect because of demand and the configuration of the building. Few new office users are seeking space in old buildings that far from the harbor.
Plans call for two floors of parking to be tucked under six floors of apartments. The basic concrete structure will remain, although a portion in the center of the building above the garage will be removed to allow for an open-air deck. That will allow more light to flood the hallways of the building, D'Aleo said.
The 2- and 3-foot-wide concrete columns that run through the building will be preserved and visible inside the apartments.