While city officials wait to see how many proposals they get for a high-rise "convention hotel" near Oriole Park, developers are moving ahead with plans to construct another tall building in the same area, a 22-story apartment tower called the Zenith.
Baltimore's Design Advisory Panel last month approved schematic plans for the $35 million, 191-unit project, which is being planned by Legacy Harrison Development LLC for the southwest corner of Pratt and Paca streets.
The land is just west of a two-block parcel where Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson has proposed a 24-story, 750-room Hilton Hotel and a separate building containing a new headquarters for Catholic Relief Services.
The Baltimore Development Corp. has set Jan. 27 as the deadline for other groups to submit competing bids for the hotel site, bounded by Pratt, Howard, Camden and Paca streets.
Legacy Harrison was selected last year to be the developer for its half-acre property after competing with three other groups to acquire it from the city.
Its project would be different from many other apartment projects planned for the west side of downtown Baltimore because it would be constructed from scratch, rather than created inside loft buildings that are being converted to residential use. It also would be contemporary in appearance, rather than a throwback to a past era.
The architect, Design Collective of Baltimore, has designed a richly layered glass and masonry building with a curving east wall that follows the curve of Paca Street. The first level would contain a lobby and restaurant. The next six levels would provide parking spaces for about 250 cars. Levels 8 to 22 would contain apartments.
Brian Morris, chief executive officer of Legacy Harrison, said city officials made clear to prospective developers that they wanted a "gateway building" for the southwest corner of Pratt and Paca streets - and that's what his company has tried to provide.
"We could have put up a brick building that would have looked like everything else in the area and saved several million dollars, but we wanted to respect the city's request, and we wanted a signature building," he said. "This will be the western anchor to the downtown skyline."
Morris said the building has been named the Zenith to convey that it will be a "high end" project, in terms of price, quality and amenities.
More than half of the residences would have views into the playing field at Oriole Park one block away - a strong selling point - and of the Inner Harbor in the distance. Corner units would have balconies. There would be six "live-work" apartments, with extra space for a home office or studio. The top two floors would contain duplex units with two bedrooms and a den.
Amenities include an outdoor pool and a fitness center. Rents would range from about $1,000 a month for a studio or one-bedroom apartment to $3,000 a month for the duplex units at the top.
Joy Owens is the interior designer working on the Zenith's lobby and models. The builder is Duracon Inc. of Baltimore with Armada-Hoffler of Chesapeake, Va.
Morris said construction is scheduled to begin by the middle of this year and be complete by early 2005. He said he expects the apartments to appeal to young professionals who work in Baltimore or commute to Washington on the MARC train line, which has a stop at Camden Yards.
The Zenith is one of three residential projects that Legacy Harrison has in the works for downtown. Others are an apartment building called the Water Tower, above the parking garage at 414 Water St., and luxury housing on piers at HarborView, off Key Highway.
Morris said his company originally wanted to construct an even taller building at Paca and Pratt streets but was told to keep it under 241 feet to preserve helicopter flight patterns to the Shock Trauma Center, part of the University of Maryland Medical System.
He said he is encouraged that developers want to build a convention hotel to the east, as long as it doesn't block views from the Zenith. "It will add liveliness and vitality to the area," he said of the hotel, "which is what we're trying to do."
More than 1,500 apartments are expected to open in downtown Baltimore over the next several years, many on the west side.
"I think downtown living is really on the cusp of exploding," Morris said. "The city is starting to get a partially residential feel downtown, and we're going to add to that dynamic."