Cordish Co. starts Pier 4 transformation

Building demolition clearing way for $30 million complex

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

It played host to fancy steak and seafood dinners and a John Waters' movie premier. In its final days, hundreds came for beach-style happy hours.

But yesterday, the warehouse that juts into the Inner Harbor on Pier 4 played host to a different crowd as demolition crews began whacking the structure apart in preparation for Cordish Co.'s $30 million office and retail complex.

The development will extend the developer's control of city property along the harbor and concentrate more workers, shoppers and diners on the waterfront.

"This expresses our long-term confidence in Baltimore," said Blake Cordish, a vice president at the company. "And this particular site is very unique, a high-profile harbor-front location."

The property is sandwiched between the National Aquarium and the Power Plant entertainment complex. It most recently housed the bars Surfside Sally's and Lava Lounge.

Cordish signed a 72-year lease on the property with the city in 1999, the same year the Chart House restaurant moved out. There will not be a new Chart House, but the company intends to bring another national chain to the building, which is scheduled for completion at the end of next year.

The developer will pay annual rent to the city starting at about $120,000, with increases of about 1.5 percent a year. The Cordish Co. also rents the Power Plant property from the city, as well as the property across Pratt Street that is known as Power Plant Live.

Accounting firm Ernst & Young has already said it will move its offices from Charles Street to the new Cordish building. Nexgen, a new venture capital incubator, also intends to open offices there. Together, they will take up about 75 percent of the space in the six-story, 140,000-square-foot building, Cordish said.

Ernst & Young, which threatened to move out of the city, will receive a 10-year loan for $850,000 from the city to move to the space and maintain 125 jobs. The loan converts to a grant if the company employs 150 people in the fifth year of the loan.

"We're committed to Baltimore and we're excited about our new space in Pier 4," said Mark S. Bartlett, managing partner at Ernst & Young.

The leases gave Cordish faith that the rest of the building would be leased, Blake Cordish said.

The company intends to pay for construction of the building itself and seek a mortgage when it's open and running. That allows the company to sidestep the banks that may not want to finance construction of a new city building in unsteady economic times.

The company will also begin construction on a 690-space parking garage on Pier 6, which has drawn the ire of some neighbors in the Scarlett Place condominiums who feared they would lose their harbor views.

Cordish said the garage is now smaller than originally proposed and will use screens to hide cars from view.

The city approved a $375,000- a-year lease with Cordish for that property.

The new office building, with retail space on the first floor, will be built to look something like a renovated warehouse. Offices will have 16-foot ceilings, large windows and exposed brick. About 700 to 800 people will work in the building.

The building is among three to break ground in the area this year.

Some real estate experts have questioned whether there are enough tenants to go around in the weakened economy. But the developers said they believe demand has been pent up in the 10 years since the last office building was completed downtown.

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