Fells Point activists have singled out two developers they believe would best preserve the neighborhood's ambience if they were allowed to renew historic Recreation Pier.
The city Department of Housing and Community Development is expected to publicly echo that choice of developers next week. The two finalists are expected to be Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse and J.J. Clarke Enterprises Inc.
The two are among five companies competing to develop the pier, which once served as police headquarters in the television series Homicide: Life on the Street.
The city confirmed that the competition had been reduced to two but would not say which firms were the finalists.
The Struever-Clarke proposals "appeared to be the least intrusive," said Paul P. Swensen, vice president and general manager of Moran Towing of Maryland Inc., the tugboat operator that now docks its boats at the pier. "I think these two are the lesser of five evils."
In its proposal, Struever would team with Lambda Development LLC and H&S Properties Development Corp. to build a 70,000-square-foot office building - a revision of an earlier proposal that included residential units.
In the other, Clarke and Historic Restoration Inc. of New Orleans propose a $29.5 million DoubleTree Club Hotel that would have 145 rooms.
The city received five development proposals for the century-old Thames Street pier, but residents had concerns about the height and nature of the three other projects.
"We wanted to be able to have the view of the ... building from the water," said Lori Guess, chairman of the Recreation Pier committee of the Fells Point Task Force. "It was also an issue of density."
Guess also serves on the formal selection committee named to pick the Recreation Pier developer. Both the task force and the selection committee agree on the two finalists.
"I was happy to hear that, because ... [the selection committee] looked at it a little bit differently from the community, but they came to the same conclusion," she said.
The residents' concerns include being able to have access to an existing ballroom, having space to dock the Pride of Baltimore II clipper ship, having roof access and having space for a visitor center and an immigration information center.
Many also worried about the compatibility of homes with the tugboat operation. "If you had just spent $500,000 or $1 million for a condo with a few rooms on the end of the Recreation Pier, and a tugboat sounds his whistle that he's backing out of the harbor at 3 a.m., by day 10, the novelty is going to wear off," said Swensen of Moran Towing.
"If you're sitting out on your deck with your latte and your New York Times and a tugboat starts its engine, you've got your bagel and cream cheese with diesel fuel on it. You're going to say, `This is nuts.' Why would anyone think that condos and tugboats are compatible?"
The three developers expected to be eliminated are: Edwin F. Hale Sr., chairman of First Mariner Bank, who proposed a 12-story condominium development; Baltimore-based Legacy Harrison Enterprises, which proposed a 142,000- square-foot office building combined with an amusement park; and Washington-based Riverdale International and Somerset Development Co. LLC, which proposed a combination of residential, commercial and office space for the site.
Developer J. Joseph Clarke believes his plan to build a hotel on the pier site makes the most sense. "It stays within the silhouette of the existing structure," he said. "We don't violate any of the urban renewal plan."
David B. Levy, deputy commissioner of the city's community development department, said letters would be mailed to the successful finalists within a week. He would not confirm which two developers had made the cut.
The existing proposals are in no way final, he said. "We will choose the two that are most likely to be able to meet the needs and desires of the community and to be viable financially and to have positive impact on the city at large."
How long the next steps take depends on how developers respond to questions, Levy said. The deteriorating pier has been mostly vacant since the conclusion of the 1990s TV series.
"We're a delicate combination of aggressively solving the problem of the dilapidated Recreation Pier and turning that into a community asset while not compromising the need for community, financial and economic due diligence," he said.