Spiffy apartments planned for old S. Baltimore General

Light Street landmark could have 70-80 units in $12 million project

March 08, 2003|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

As Federal Hill gentrification continues to push southward, a local developer is planning to turn a shuttered nursing home at the tail end of the business district into one of the neighborhood's largest apartment buildings.

Patrick Turner and partners want to transform the century-old building on Light Street that last housed the Harbour Inn Convalescent Center, closed about two years ago, into housing for professionals who have been flocking to the area in recent years.

"We're still studying the market, but it will be a doorman-kind of building," he said.

Turner has been clearing out the nursing home and donating equipment, furniture and linens to charities such as the Salvation Army and an area homeless shelter. He hopes to start construction work in the fall, but has yet to decide if he will rent or sell the units. Between 70 or 80 likely could fit into the four-story, 100,000-square-foot building, he said.

There will be parking, and perhaps a courtyard and health club added as part of the $12 million project - likely paid for with historic tax credits and loans.

Turner bought the building for $3 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which foreclosed on it last year. Federal officials had closed the convalescent home for state and federal health violations.

Most area residents remember it, however, from its first life as South Baltimore General Hospital, which left in 1968. Turner wants to restore some of the property's original features, which have been covered with drop ceilings and wallpaper. He said he was considering naming it "General Hospital."

He and neighbors hope renovations will restore some luster to the aging commercial strip around it that now has several empty storefronts.

"It will be wonderful for the neighborhood," said Amy Grace, president of the South Baltimore Improvement Committee. "It's a beautiful building, and it's great to have it used."

A local Realtor said Turner should not have difficulty filling the building, because the housing market has been booming despite the lagging commercial corridor.

Long & Foster Realtor Joe Craig, whose office faces the Light Street building, said the market for rentals and condos has gotten hot beyond the traditional boundaries of Federal Hill. He estimated that modern condos could sell for about $140 a square foot, or $140,000 for a 1,000-square-foot apartment.

"If he had 70 condos, he would have 70 people lined up to buy them," he said. "Rentals might take a bit longer."

PierSide at HarborView, on Key Highway at the base of Federal Hill, put 176 rentals on the market last year and this year it's mostly full, he said. They rent for $995 to $2,300 a month.

The only other large apartment building in the area, where rowhouses predominate, is the 73-unit Harbor Hill on Warren Avenue adjacent to Federal Hill park. The building, the former Southern High School, was renovated in 1984. Apartments there now rent for $1,010 to $2,470 a month, according to Tammy Starling, the manager.

In the last couple of years, Turner has redeveloped smaller buildings in Federal Hill. In 2001 he completed development of nine large loft apartments, ranging from 2,000 to 3,200 square feet, in the former Southway Bowling Center on South Charles Street. He plans to finish 12 upscale condos with parking garages in the former Holy Cross School on William Street by October.

He also built offices into the 12,000-square-foot McHenry Theatre off Cross Street. And he wants to build a grocery store atop Cross Street Market to serve the residents.

"This should be a big shot in the arm for the business district," Turner said. "All these new people should make the corridor more vibrant."

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