In a move that furthers the expansion of the business district to the east, RTKL Associates Inc., the Baltimore architectural firm that has grown into one of the nation's largest, will announce today that it will move its headquarters from a downtown skyscraper to a warehouse-style building it is designing in Fells Point.
The firm will move 225 workers from its offices in the signature Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown tower at 1 South St. to a five-story building, to be called Bond Street Wharf, at the foot of Bond Street. Ground will be broken today for the building, which is expected to open in summer 2002 and is being developed as part of a $90 million office-parking garage-residential project by Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse Inc. and H&S Properties Development Corp.
"This is a new attitude for the Baltimore office as the firm has grown in the past 54 years," said Raymond E. Peloquin, a vice president for RTKL, which has 14 offices worldwide and more than 900 employees. "As the company has grown from a small local company to a national company to a global firm, a lot has changed."
The new building will have top amenities - including harbor-front views - but will have the look of a 100-year-old warehouse with a faded-looking sign on its red brick facade. It takes the place of a parking lot that was once the site of the old Terminal Warehouse Co. building that was burned for a scene in the movie "Avalon."
That's a stark contrast to its offices in the traditional Alex. Brown building, which RTKL also designed.
Peloquin said the firm has a history of evolving its styles and headquarters with the times. Formed in Annapolis in 1946, it moved to Baltimore in the mid-1960s. The firm has had offices on Cathedral Street and later in Cross Keys, then considered a cutting-edge planned community. It then designed and moved into one of the early Inner Harbor buildings, at 400 E. Pratt St.
The company moved to the 30-story Alex. Brown tower in 1993 during a time of economic hardship for the city and RTKL. The firm had just laid off about a third of its work force and renegotiated its lease for about half of its original space. It also gave up an ownership stake in the building.
At the time, the building was considered a bit too far east and too close to The Block to be in the mainstream. It's now fully leased and one of the most prestigious addresses in the city.
Real estate professionals said they don't expect the building, the last major office building to be built downtown, to have trouble finding tenants for the 50,000 square feet RTKL is vacating.
RTKL considers its latest move another round of trailblazing.
With just two other mid-sized office buildings built recently in the Inner Harbor East-Fells Point area - also developed by H&S and Struever Bros. - few businesses have committed to moving there. RTKL is the only tenant committed to its 200,000-square-foot building, where it will occupy 45,000 square feet.
But other development is slated for the area. Whitman, Requardt and Associates, an engineering, architectural and planning firm, plans a 80,000-square- foot office building and 320-space garage at 800 S. Caroline St., neighboring the Bond Street Wharf project. That project will include a 20,000-square-foot expansion of the Black Olive restaurant.
In addition, a group of investors including developer Larry Silverstein plans to build up to 200 apartments, two parking garages and 150,000 square feet of office space on two parcels at Wolfe and Thames streets.
Peloquin said parking was an issue in selecting a new location; the company will get 135 spaces in a new neighboring garage that will open with the office building. But image was also an issue.
RTKL wanted not only to impress clients with a unique new headquarters, he said, but also wanted to be able to attract "the best and the brightest" workers. The new offices, near popular residential areas like Canton, will be open and allow the architects, designers and engineers to work together in teams, Peloquin said. It will have high ceilings and utility ducts buried beneath the floor.
RTKL looked around the region for the right spot and spoke with several developers about building a new headquarters.
A spokesman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening said the governor called RTKL officials to ask them to stay in the city. The governor considers retaining businesses in existing downtowns a crucial part of his Smart Growth initiative to control sprawl.
Michael Morrill, the spokesman, said the governor would announce today a commitment for an unspecified amount of money for the bulkheads and promenade expansion required by the city. Eventually, officials want pedestrians to be able to stroll from Federal Hill to Canton along the water.
Linda T. LoCascio, senior development director at Struever Bros., said developers have had at least 30 meetings with community groups and have tried to consider their concerns about parking, traffic, views and other issues in developing a master plan for the area.
The RTKL parking garage will have spaces available to the public. The city is expanding some of the roads. And Struever Bros. plans to bring street-level retail to the new buildings, including restaurants and shops in keeping with the neighborhood. Bond Street Wharf will neighbor Brown's Wharf, another collection of urban retailers.
The location among retailers and offices, and other proposed development should help sell the building to other tenants, said Bruce Matthai, a vice president and principal at Colliers Pinkard, a commercial real estate firm.
"It's not a new office location, but it's becoming more mainstream," said Matthai, who is leasing the Bond Street Wharf.