Harbor's east side is alive with construction

Homes, offices, shops, hotels in one hot area

August 11, 2002|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUNS STAFF

The new offices of Whitman, Requardt and Associates in Fells Point are still surrounded by construction equipment, even though work on the building was completed seven months ago.

The architects and engineers at the firm sit in the middle of what is becoming one of the hottest locations in the city.

Opulent apartments, exclusive restaurants and amenity-filled offices and hotels are in the works, hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of development that is transforming the Inner Harbor's east side and potentially adding thousands of people to the mix.

The area's amenities, along with the water and available parcels, have been luring developers for several years. Construction has largely stayed on course, even if the national economy has not.

Despite the construction cranes, "we love it here," said C. Richard Lortz, Whitman Requardt's managing partner. "Employees go to the restaurants for lunch and sometimes dinner. We're finding a lot of employees are jogging around the Inner Harbor. We're finding that a few employees are seeking homes in the area."

Some projects, such as Lortz's building, have been completed. Other major projects have opened in neighboring Inner Harbor East, including two hotels, an office building and a parking garage developed by H&S Properties Development Corp., which is also responsible for much of the forthcoming development.

Demand for housing - and available financing - is fueling the building surge. But other buildings are under construction or have recently been announced, including a Four Seasons hotel.

The next project is a $33 million office building, anchored by RTKL Associates Inc. Bond Street Warf is expected to open Oct. 1 on the Fells Point waterfront. The building was designed to look industrial, with its name painted on the side, so it will fit into the traditional waterfront. It replaces an old warehouse burned down for the filming of the movie Avalon.

"The intent was to make sure it blended with the community," said Amy Bonitz, development director in charge of constructing the 212,000-square-foot building, a neighboring public park and a 760-car garage across the street.

RTKL is to occupy a little more than one-fourth of the building, and developers have one other tenant lined up. Bonitz said the number of businesses looking for space has slowed with the economy. That has led some other developers to put off building offices around the city.

The office users in Bond Street Warf will have access to the parking garage across the street during the day, and residents and visitors will be able to use it of an evening. The garage and public park were partly designed to appease neighbors, who feared traffic and a crowded skyline.

To make the garage more appealing to the public, developer Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse Inc. plans to disguise it at street level by wrapping housing around the building on Bond, Thames and Caroline streets. There will be 27 townhouses, starting in the upper $500,000s, and 24 European-style flats above shops, beginning in the low $200,000s, said Matthew Holbrook, a residential development director for Struever.

Holbrook said the company has taken reservations for most of the housing, including a historic house it preserved on Caroline Street.

"This is the heart of Fells Point, and we wanted to avoid putting a garage right up to the property line. That would stamp out life on the street," he said.

In neighboring Inner Harbor East, where three large parking lots remain to be developed, ground is expected to be broken next month for an $80 million phase in a master plan created by H&S. It will add apartments, parking and street-level shops to the area.

H&S has built offices for Sylvan Learning Systems Inc. and Fidelity & Guaranty Life Insurance Co., and a Fresh Fields Whole Foods Market is expected to open this month in that building. The developer has also opened two hotels, the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront and the Courtyard by Marriott, in the past year and a half.

The apartments, developed with Bozzuto & Associates Inc., are to rise from a parking lot on Lancaster Street to face the water. Developers are working on the final financing deal for 32 condominiums and 316 rental apartments. Thomas S. Bozzuto, president of the Bozzuto company, said there will be one- to three-bedroom units renting for about $750 to $3,500 a month. Condominiums are to sell for $400,000 to $1 million. He said he was a bit concerned that demand might not match the large number of apartment buildings going up around the city but that the waterfront location will help sell his units.

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