Pratt tower could lead to something very big indeed

750 E.

Future projects expected to alter downtown skyline

May 06, 2001|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

A new 15-story glass and granite office tower under construction on East Pratt Street, the first major downtown project in a decade, could lead to a flurry of similar developments that would change the skyline and add thousands of workers along the east end of the harbor.

The new office buildings - along with new retail development, restaurants and parking, some already begun - are expected to bring more life to what was once the fringe of activity in the cental business district.

Officials say it could take years for all of the projects planned for the area to open because demand will taper off. But some developers are setting construction schedules they say are firm.

Wednesday's groundbreaking for 750 E. Pratt St., a 15-story structure that will rise above a Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. substation, made it first out of the gate.

"Getting one started is a great thing," said M. J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development arm. "Some others might start, or they might pause and rethink their competitive position."

Brodie and real estate agents said demand for new offices has built up over the 10 years since a major building was completed in the central business district. New office buildings spur the need for more places for lunch, entertainment and services, as well as parking.

Constellation Energy Group Inc. agreed to anchor the new building being developed by Willard Hackerman, head of Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. Hackerman will spend $50 million on the building and to 470 parking spaces in the 830-space Harbor Park garage on Lombard Street, which he co-owns.

Once the tower opens, about 1,500 more people could work there.

Hackerman is not the only one racing to provide space for all kinds of businesses before demand dips with the economy.

Perhaps the largest collection of developments will come from the Cordish Co., which has three projects in the immediate pipeline.

Power Plant Live, an extension down Market Place of the Power Plant entertainment and office complex on Pier 4, is nearly leased with businesses, restaurants and bars that surround a center plaza.

The company expects all of them to be operating by September, when a grand opening is planned. With more than a dozen bars and restaurants, the project could be the premier place for nightlife for residents, tourists and conventioneers, Cordish officials say.

The idea was to put the venues near where people already go: Cordish officials expect some of the millions of people who visit the Inner Harbor to pour up Market Place.

In addition, Cordish expects to add hundreds more workers to the area after it completes a Pier 4 office building. That six-story building is in the final stages of city approvals. The company said that in the next few weeks it will begin tearing down a building on the site.

Cordish said that about 75 percent of the space inside is spoken for and that the building is to be completed by the end of 2002. The 160,000-square-foot warehouse-style structure is to be anchored by accounting firm Ernst & Young.

To support the projects, the company also plans a 640-space garage on Pier 6 in front of the Pier 6 Concert Pavilion, which the city owns but Cordish manages. The company has not received city approvals for the structure, but officials acknowledged the need for more parking.

Cordish generally begins construction on its projects without signed tenants, and the company leases them before seeking bank loans - an unusual process for city developers. David Cordish, chairman and president of the company, said that enables the company to bypass lenders that "have little vision."

Cordish said he is betting $80 million that the three projects are in demand - not as large a gamble as he is making on projects in cities such as Atlantic City, N.J., and Salt Lake City.

Cordish said clustering the new and existing offices, shops and restaurants will boost all the developments - if they are built.

"We'll do well to put them all together," Cordish said. "People can flow from the convention center to the stadiums, hotels, Power Plant, Power Plant Live and the other attractions. They'll all help each other. I hope it all happens. The question is: Will it? I don't know."

Across Pratt Street from the Power Plant is Lockwood Place, an $85 million proposal that includes retail, office and parking but has yet to attract committed tenants.

Trammell Crow Co., a national commercial real estate services company developing a 12-story office building on the land owned by Baltimore City Community College, plans to build without tenants, possibly by seeking out other investors.

The design calls for retail shops adjacent to the Cordish tourist venues. The garage and retail portions of the project are slated for completion next summer, and the 250,000-square-foot office tower - enough for 1,000 workers or more - is scheduled to be finished in the first three months of 2003, although construction awaits design approvals from the city.

If the projects go forward, Baltimore stands to gain tax revenue from businesses and patrons.

The development will attract attention from tourists and out-of-town businesses, said Andrew Frank, executive vice president of the Baltimore Development Corp.

"There's a good, healthy mix proposed," he said. "It's not all entertainment. There's retail and a significant amount of office. ... We need to continue to add to the base."

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