Estimates Board endorses plan for apartments, stores

$6.5 million project would involve historic buildings on west side

November 20, 2003|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

The city's Board of Estimates agreed yesterday to support a $6.5 million plan to convert a collection of vacant, yet historic, buildings on downtown's west side into new apartments and street-level stores.

The board's approval clears the way for the developer to seek state bonds and historic tax credits needed to revive the decaying buildings on the southwest corner of Howard and Franklin streets.

Developer Wendy Blair said construction of the project, St. James Place, is set to begin in July and would take 10 to 14 months to complete. It would create 64 residential units, 44 parking spaces and 12,000 square feet of street-level retail space.

The work will require replacing one nonhistoric building with a new structure and the renovation of five historic buildings. The project's marquee feature is the former John Turnbull Jr. & Co. furniture store, a Renaissance Revival palazzo-like building erected in 1905 with large bay windows, arched openings and prominent cornices.

Although the buildings are viewed as having significant architectural attributes, they have been vacant for five years. But Blair is confident that other west-side renovations, such as the Hippodrome Theater about four blocks south on Eutaw Street, will attract residential interest in the area. Across Franklin Street the historic Congress Hotel has been converted into 36 apartments.

"It's tough now," said Blair, whose company has invested $250,000 in St. James Place. "There is no doubt in my mind that in five years we'll look at the west side and say, `It's wonderful.'"

Blair was responsible most recently for constructing Spicer's Run, an 86-unit townhouse project in Bolton Hill. She is also trying to renovate the former Northern District police station at Keswick and 34th streets.

St. James Place will designate 20 percent of its apartments for affordable housing, charging qualified tenants between $500 and $600 in monthly rent. The remaining units will charge market rate rents of $700 to $1,200 per month.

The retail stores are expected to create 25 jobs, excluding construction jobs, and may generate $38,000 in annual taxes to the city, housing officials said.

In other business yesterday, the board accepted a $6.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to fund the creation of a regional communications network for police and other emergency agencies. The grant will be used to build an "ultra-modern" radio network linking the city, Annapolis and regional counties.

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