Interest in arts district continues to develop

Plans: Proposals for revitalizing the area around Penn Station are being reviewed.


February 11, 2002|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

Baltimore's drive to turn the area around Pennsylvania Station into an arts and entertainment district has begun to draw interest from developers, with half a dozen groups submitting proposals to revitalize city-owned properties near the train terminal.

The old Railway Express building at 1501 St. Paul St. would be converted to an arts center called Creative Works, with the advertising agency of Carton Donofrio Partners moving 100 employees there by late 2003 and additional arts groups leasing 17 more loft spaces for studios, galleries or housing, under one of three proposals submitted for that property. Others envisioned housing or offices for the building, which serves as a maintenance facility and warehouse for Baltimore's housing authority.

Restoration of such a prominent structure will help give visitors a positive first impression of the emerging arts district and the city in general, said Stanley Keyser, one of the developers behind the Creative Works proposal.

"If you're coming into the city by train or Interstate 83, you want to be able to say, `Hey, this is Baltimore. People live here and work here.' " he said. "We're trying to build a neighborhood from the harbor to Hopkins, and this is an important part of that corridor."

Under a proposal from Travenca Development Corp. of Washington, part of the old Mildred Monroe elementary school property at 1600 Guilford Ave. would be razed to make way for 162 apartments over a 700-car garage. The oldest part of the school would be converted to a neighborhood center under Travenca's plan, one of three for that property.

A surface parking lot in the 1700 block of N. Calvert Street drew two proposals, both for a combination of housing and offices or stores.

Baltimore's housing department solicited proposals for the three parcels last fall, while the city was seeking designation of land around Penn Station as a state-sanctioned arts and entertainment district called Station North.

The arts district is bounded roughly by Howard Street, North and Greenmount avenues and the Jones Falls Expressway. The designation, which became official last month, provides a state income tax break for qualified artists working and living in the area and a 10-year tax break for owners of commercial buildings renovated for arts uses. Feb. 1 was the deadline for developers to submit proposals.

The 1929 Railway Express building originally served as a parcel post office connected with the Pennsylvania Railroad and is visible to drivers on the Jones Falls Expressway. According to housing department spokesman John Milton Wesley, the three proposals called for it to be converted to:

Creative Works, an $11 million center for the arts with 107,432 square feet for tenants and 111 parking spaces. The developer would be Railway Express LLC, composed of Lambda/Doracon, headed by former City Councilman Anthony Ambridge and Ronald Lipscomb; the Banks Group, headed by Kenneth Banks; Keyser Development and architect Ed Hord. Hord Coplan Macht would be the architect.

A $23 million housing development with 60 loft residences and 184 parking spaces. The developer would be Railway Development Group, including Thomas and Maria Rafailides and Perry P. Savoy. Shull Architects would be the designer.

A $29.9 million office center, with 173,000 square feet of space, 25 parking spaces on site and a 700-car garage nearby, proposed by Travenca. (Further details about the Travenca team were not immediately available.)

Several other developers said they considered constructing housing inside the building but decided not to submit a bid after learning that freight trains run under the building at night, when people would be sleeping.

Keyser said his group wanted to create a project that would keep jobs in the city and draw people to the area in a variety of ways. He said Carton Donofrio has been working with the Baltimore Development Corp. to find a new home after its current lease expires next year, and construction of Creative Works would keep them in the city while providing an ideal anchor for others.

"If they have clients in New York or Washington and they take the train to Baltimore, all those clients have to do its walk across the street to get to their offices," he said. Plus, "we'd keep 100 jobs in the city, and some of those employees might want to buy a house nearby and renovate it."

Proximity to the train station, the highly visible location and the chance to be a pioneer in an emerging area are all appealing factors to companies such as Carton Donofrio, Keyser noted. Other spaces in the building would be ideal for a sound studio, galleries or other arts-related uses, he added.

Proposals for the former school on Guilford Avenue were:

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