New phase for Fells Point

Luxury: A $90 million development project will include a parking garage, condominiums, townhouses and retail space.

February 17, 2002|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN REAL ESTATE EDITOR

You walk the narrow cobblestone streets and wonder what would William Fell think.

At the point where Bond meets Thames, you see the chain-link fence curving around the corner up the street and then curving onto Caroline. There's machinery everywhere, clearing the area and laying the groundwork for a 750-car garage and a string of new residences.

Face the harbor, and rising from the ground to anchor the Bond Street Wharf is the chic new six-story international headquarters of Maryland's largest architectural firm, RTKL Associates, with its 200 employees.

Glance westward and there's the gritty open space left by the former Allied Signal chrome factory, destined to be reborn as Harbor Point, 27 acres of trendy commercial, office and restaurant space.

Blockbuster? Bagel shops? The Gap? Another wave of dot-com startups to continue the Digital Harbor dream? Who knows?

Peek over your shoulder, and still standing guard on Bond Street is the London Coffee House, a pre-Revolutionary War gathering spot where time has put wrinkles into the Colonial brick-and-mortar exterior. A few feet away is 1532 Thames St., which dates to the 19th century.

You can sense the ghost of William Fell standing there, surveying the land he knew in 1726. What would the English land speculator think of the site now?

Almost 250 years ago, Fell's son, Edward, laid out these streets. After his death, his wife, Ann Bond Fell, shrewdly sold parcels to people who knew a good investment when they saw it.

Funny how history has a way of repeating itself: William Fell, meet Ted Rouse. From one developer to another, the face of Baltimore's most historic waterfront is evolving again. From bawdy, brash, brawling Fells Point comes upscale sophistication that seeks to blend the fabric of the old with that of the new.

In March, Struever Rouse Homes, a division of Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, will begin work on the Bond Street Townhouses. The five luxury residences are expected to become the most expensive homes in the area, with prices starting at $550,000. With extras such as an elevator that goes to a rooftop sunroom, most will end up costing closer to $650,000.

The townhouses are just a slice of what Rouse is doing as part of a $90 million project that includes the Bond Street Wharf, an adjoining plaza and Fells Landing, which will "wrap" and hide a 750-car garage with 24 European-style condominiums and first-floor retail space along Thames Street and 20 "two-over-two" townhouses on Caroline Street.

The condominiums will range in price from $158,000 to $350,000. The townhouses will begin at about $200,000 for a lower-level unit and $300,000 for an upper-level unit with rooftop deck. Construction on the two projects is expected to begin in the summer. H&S Properties Development Corp. is a partner in the residential development.

"Baltimore's huge asset is this waterfront, which is unique among the waterfronts anywhere in the world in both being a working port, a recreation port, a retail shopping center," Rouse said. "I live in Federal Hill, but it doesn't have the same nautical feeling that Fells Point does. Seeing that row of townhouses that face the waterfront gives roots to the neighborhood as a waterfront neighborhood."

Another Georgetown?

Changing the face of neighborhoods is nothing to new Rouse and his partner, Bill Struever. They've been doing it for a generation. From the American Can Co. in Canton to $300,000 townhouses at Whetstone Point in Locust Point, making something out of nothing and raising property values is what they do best.

"We've been Baltimore City's largest homebuilder by default for 25 years in that very few people are crazy enough to build where the market wasn't going in the city," Rouse said from his office in Tide Point, across the harbor the from emerging new Fells Point.

In Fells Point, upscale single-house and small-block rehabilitation projects are common, but now the area is at a point where major redevelopment is going to become more visible.

Because of its Colonial heritage, there's always been a notion that Fells Point could imitate the charm of Georgetown. Broadway and Thames has always been a long way from Wisconsin and M, but as the new development and nearby residential and commercial projects begin to pick up speed, could a transformation take place?

"We've been promised that Georgetown [look] for 25, 30 years," said Bill Cassidy, manager of the Fells Point office for Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. "And actually in the last year and half, visually and visibly, the neighborhood has changed more than it has in the previous 10 to 20 years. Just to see the crowd that eats in the Broadway Market at lunchtime is so much different than what it was 10 or 20 years ago."

Matthew F. Holbrook is development director of the Bond Street project for Struever Rouse Homes, and to him, the architecture displayed in the 19th and 18th centuries is what made Georgetown special "and that's what we are re-creating here."

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