Developers ready to remake Fells Point Recreation Pier

City to receive proposals tomorrow for renovating Thames Street landmark

February 27, 2003|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

To television viewers of the 1990s crime drama Homicide: Life on the Street, it is a police station. To locals, it's a dance hall and working pier. But to at least three developers who want to remake the 1914 Fells Point waterfront landmark, the Recreation Pier building is a commercial opportunity.

The three developers plan to submit ideas to the city by tomorrow on how to bring life back to the historic building. Baltimore officials will consider the plans, which include a hotel and restaurant, high-rise condominiums and a combination of housing, offices and other commercial space. All would also include publicly accessible elements such as a new ballroom and a park.

Baltimore's Department of Housing and Community Development, which sought the proposals, said the building has not been used since Homicide stopped filming there in 1999. The department wants a developer to spend private dollars to fix the pier and propose uses for the building that would suit the historic neighborhood and offer public access.

"It's a marvelous site and has a tremendous amount of potential not currently being realized," Robert Pipik, director of asset management for Housing and Community Development, said yesterday. "We did an engineering study not too long ago and identified the extent of repairs needed on the pier itself. It was a level of investment we'd have trouble coming up with from our own pockets. It's a useful time to bring it back into use and get the repairs done."

The agency will review the proposals and choose a developer on which to exclusively focus for two to three months. That would give the developer time to flesh out the details and determine how to pay for the project. No time line has been set to start construction. Pipik said the community would be involved in choosing the final plan.

Residents have already said they have concerns about gaining access to the building, which is in the heart of Fells Point on Thames Street.

"Of course we want to maintain the pier," said Fells Point Homeowners Association President Kay Hogan. "One of our major concerns is that the community has a role and has access. We want some recreation component that allows community access. It's not open to us now in any way."

Developers coming forward with ideas say they plan community and commercial elements.

Local developer J. Joseph Clarke's plans include a $30 million Double Tree Club Hotel, with 145 rooms, a restaurant, parking garage and meeting space and ballroom.

He's pairing with New Orleans-based Historic Restoration Inc., which has built similar urban projects and has been seeking a Baltimore project for years. The two were brought together for the Recreation Pier by architect Peter Fillat.

"Our mission is the revitalization of cities," said Pres Kabacoff, chief executive of Historic Restoration. "With the meeting rooms and the restaurant, it will give folks a chance to use the area. It's good for the city and good for the neighborhood."

This development team and others plan to use state and federal tax credits. But private money would also be required. Pier repairs alone are expected to cost millions. Kabacoff said the hotel would be able to attract financing, despite the tough environment for borrowing money, once the tax credits were in place.

Another local developer and businessman, Edwin F. Hale Sr., said he thinks a 12-story, upscale condominium project would be the best option.

He would put in extra parking to accommodate the 88 condos and the neighborhood, and include a ballroom and a park.

"I've always liked the property," Hale said. "I've been around the waterfront all my life and I've always thought it was an underutilized property with a neat front. ... The condos are the best application. I think it would be less obtrusive than any other application such as a restaurant or more bars."

A third developer, Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse Inc., is teaming with H&S Properties Development Corp. and envisions a "three-tier development" with residential, office/commer- cial and public use components.

"What we've put together celebrates the architectural and historical magic of the site in a way that can be open and used by the public and have an economic development component to make it an economically viable site," said Joshua E. Neiman, a development director at Struever Bros.

Struever Bros., which has redeveloped other buildings in Fells Point, said it was time to also put this property back into use. Neiman and the other developers said they would consult with the city, the community and preservationists before developing a final plan.

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