City chooses developer for west-side site

Upscale apartment tower to be near Camden Yards

1 of 3 planned projects

Area showing new vitality as a neighborhood

May 22, 2002|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore developer has won the right to build an upscale apartment tower on choice city-owned land near Camden Yards stadium.

The Zenith would rise about 20 stories at Pratt and Paca streets, offering residents sweeping views of the city and altering the downtown skyline from the south.

The city's selection of a team led by minority-owned Legacy Harrison Development over three other bidders comes amid new signs that downtown's west side might be turning into more of a neighborhood.

The University of Maryland is quietly moving ahead with plans for a 17-story housing tower - its first new student residence in two decades - on West Fayette Street. The tower, along with several renovated buildings, would house 294 people.

And after months of delays, Bank of America intends to break ground June 6 on Centerpoint, starting with construction of a 17-story apartment building. The $70 million retail and residential complex is to have nearly 400 apartments and is widely viewed as a key to reviving the long-moribund Howard Street corridor.

"All of the development you're seeing is proving the west side is performing an important role as a bedroom and living room for downtown Baltimore, and for the region at large," said Ronald M. Kreitner, executive director of the business group WestSide Renaissance Inc.

There are no guarantees that all these proposals will be built. But some observers think the demand exists to justify these and other additions to the housing stock in the area, a once-thriving retail district trying to remake itself as a desirable place to live, work and shop.

In addition to a handful of restored loft apartment buildings, recent arrivals include Redwood Towers at Eutaw and Redwood streets and the 173-unit Atrium, in the former Hecht's store at Howard and Lexington streets.

The Atrium is filling up slowly, but Robert M. Aydukovic of the Downtown Housing Council said that should not be seen as a bad omen. Among the Atrium's problems, he said, is that it opened last fall after the prime leasing season had ended and is in an area that is "still arguably a little bit rough."

Kreitner is upbeat about the area's housing needs. "We're probably meeting only half the current demand," he said. "As this area becomes stronger as a residential area, I think demand will actually increase."

Underscoring the Zenith project's importance, Mayor Martin O'Malley is to formally announce the selection this morning at the site, on the southwest corner of Pratt and Paca.

Details, such as whether any city subsidies will be sought, were hard to come by yesterday. The quasi-public Baltimore Development Corp. would not offer specifics, and Dean Harrison of Legacy Harrison did not return calls. Legacy Harrison's partner is Lambda Development - a partnership of contractor Ronald Lipscomb and former City Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge. Ambridge referred calls to Legacy Harrison.

In November, BDC said the Zenith would be 25 stories and have 181 "luxury" apartments, a 24-hour restaurant and 330-space garage. Aydukovic said the height was reduced to about 20 stories so it would not interfere with helicopters flying to nearby Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Aydukovic, who has seen the plans, said the developer seems to be aiming for a moderately upscale crowd.

The university's Fayette Residences would take shape in the 500 block of W. Fayette St. between Paca and Greene streets. A number of older buildings, including three rowhouses, would be preserved and linked to the tower. The new units would double the university's housing.

"This project is testimony to the increase in students living on or around our campus," said James T. Hill, vice president for administration and planning. "Whereas several years ago we had trouble filling all of our student housing units, now there is a waiting list."

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