Constellation Energy going to 750 E. Pratt

Construction starts today of tower atop electric substation

May 02, 2001|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

Constellation Energy Group Inc. plans to announce today that it will anchor downtown's first major office building to break ground in a decade.

The 18-story glass and granite tower at the eastern edge of the Inner Harbor will become the headquarters for Constellation in its role as an unregulated national energy merchant after its expected split into two independent companies this year.

The tower will rise from the top of an electric substation at 750 E. Pratt St. owned by Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., a Constellation subsidiary.

BGE Corp., the regional electric company to be created by the split announced in October, will remain at the current Charles Center headquarters.

Construction formally begins today.

Constellation sold the air rights above the substation to developer Willard Hackerman, president and chief executive of Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., which will build the Class A, or top-tier, office building. It should be completed by the end of next year.

A Constellation official could not say how much space the company would occupy or how many employees would be housed there.

"We will be a tenant in the building, but the details haven't been worked out," said Vicki Strittmater, a Constellation spokeswoman.

Manekin Brothers Abes- house, the commercial real estate firm marketing the remaining office space, has said it expects about half the 320,000-square-foot building to be available.

Constellation employs 8,495 people in Maryland and occupies parts of three buildings downtown, including the existing headquarters at 36 W. Lexington St., 250 W. Pratt St. and 111 Market Place.

The substation, constructed in 1990 by Whiting-Turner, was built before development began in earnest on the eastern side of the harbor. Architects designed it to handle the load of a building on top.

Several other projects are proposed in the area surrounding the substation at Pratt and President streets, including office, retail and parking projects by the Cordish Co. and Lockwood Associates.

"Baltimore City needs Class A office space to attract headquarters and branch offices of companies to the city," Hackerman said in a statement. "There is also a critical need for garage space." Hackerman plans to add 470 parking spaces to the 830-space Harbor Park garage on Lombard Street, which he co-owns with businessman Leonard Sachs. A walkway will be built from the garage to a "sky lobby" in the polished granite and glass building that will match the substation's exterior.

Both were designed by Baltimore-based RTKL Associates Inc.

The total project will cost $50 million, Hackerman said.

M. J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development arm, said retaining Constellation's headquarters is important to the city.

"The business they're in is changing drastically," he said. "Companies like that don't have to stay where they've been for the last 100 years. It's a great vote of confidence from [Constellation Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Christian H.] Poindexter."

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