Harbor apartment complex planned over parking garage

City design panel weighs 351-unit Water St. project

July 20, 2002|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

Saying he wanted to bring "world-class living" to Baltimore, a local developer presented plans this week for an upscale apartment building overlooking the Inner Harbor.

The city apartment project is the second that Legacy Harrison Development has announced in the past two months - and one more in a wave of apartment complexes that have opened or are planned in downtown Baltimore.

Brian D. Morris, Legacy Harrison's chief executive officer, had already announced that the recently formed company would develop the Zenith, a 165-unit building near Camden Yards on the city's west side.

This week, the company showed the city's design panel a concept for Water Tower, a 351-unit complex that would rise 21 stories above a city parking garage on Water Street.

Legacy Harrison outbid another developer for the Water Tower site.

The competition for sites and the concentration of apartment projects show the continued strength of the residential market downtown where few offices, shops and hotels have been built in the past decade, said Robert M. Aydukovic, director of a housing initiative for the Downtown Partnership, a nonprofit corporation that's seeking to revitalize the city's core business area.

"In the early part of the year, developers were in a wait-and-see mode about how those that opened in 2001 would do," he said. "By May, they were back on the fast track."

Aydukovic said five downtown apartment buildings with 416 units opened late in 2001. The large number of buildings, the recession and the holiday season - a traditionally slow time for people to move - had temporarily put the brakes on other projects in the works, he said.

But now, two more buildings are nearing completion and several more have broken ground or are in the planning stages.

"If they all get done it will be hundreds of units added to the market, and that leads me to believe that not all will get done. The market is strong, but our recent study said we have enough demand for about 650 units a year," he said.

Legacy Harrison plans to open its two apartment buildings with their 516 units in 2004. Morris was confident of the market for urban rental apartments.

According to city land records, Legacy Harrison bought the air rights above the garage for $1.7 million in January from the owner, a private investor who had initially marketed the site for an office building.

"The whole theme thing we're doing is bringing world-class living to Baltimore. It's our mantra," said Morris, adding that the building will have parking in the garage underneath and some shops on the ground level.

"There's a big market of folks outside of Baltimore who want to move to Baltimore: Folks living in Columbia, folks living in Owings Mills are tired of spending an hour in traffic. ... They will come, given there is the right supply of housing stock."

Morris is targeting empty nesters, whose children have grown, as well as graduate students and young professionals.

The Water Street project has another partner, Bush Construction Corp. of Williamsburg, Va., which has more experience in developing high-rise apartments.

Bush also will serve as general contractor. Bush and Legacy Harrison would not discuss their partnership arrangement, and the companies said financing for the project is not yet complete.

Consolidated Equities Corp. of Lutherville had an option to buy the air rights to the garage, at 414 Water St. The company had taken its plans for building an apartment complex to the city's design panel last year, but then its option to the air rights expired.

Todd A. Tilson, a principal at Consolidated, said the company had been negotiating an extension to its option when he heard that the owner went with Legacy Harrison for more money. He said he was disappointed but still bullish on downtown apartments.

"I wish them well, but I was a bit amazed to see my architect and strikingly similar designs. I guess that means it was a good idea," Tilson said.

The architect is Lessard Architectural Group of Vienna, Va.

T. Courtenay Jenkins III, a senior vice president of Trammell Crow, who represented the owner, Capital Asset Research Corp., said his firm began marketing the site about 18 months ago for offices. But interest came from the apartment developers, who have had an easier time securing financing.

"All the things that made it a good office site, make it a good apartment site," Jenkins said of the water views and proximity to harbor amenities, downtown businesses and parking.

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