Big day for west side's future

Key vote today on site for 221 apartments

Market Center West project

Howard and Lombard would be transformed

December 10, 2003|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Slowed by multiple hurdles but still alive after six years in the works, a planned 221-unit apartment building on downtown Baltimore's west side makes a key stop today at the Board of Estimates.

The city spending board will vote on whether to sell the developer land at Lombard and Howard streets for $1.25 million. The mortgage would not require any payments for 10 years, then payments at 2 percent interest annually for 20 years.

The board also will consider granting a 15-year gradual increase in real estate taxes for the project, the Market Center West Apartments.

The developer is a joint venture of a company run by Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, and Washington-based Quadrangle Development Corp. Last month, Mayor Martin O'Malley chose the companies to develop a $200 million, 750-room convention hotel downtown.

"It is a way to help close the gap between the cost of construction and what the market will bear for apartments on the west side," said Andrew Frank, executive vice president of Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development arm.

In addition to apartments, the project is to have 2,700 square feet of street-level retail space and parking for 111 cars.

Unlike recent residential projects on the west side, the $33 million Market Center West would involve all new construction, Frank said. Therefore it would not qualify for generous historic-preservation tax credits.

Market Center West, projected to rise across Howard Street from the Baltimore Arena parking garage, dates to 1997, but the project was reconfigured in 1999 to add parking and reduce the number of apartments.

In 2001, the fire in the Howard Street rail tunnel caused delays. Over the subsequent year, the 122-year-old iron-fronted Johnston Building -- once envisioned as part of the apartment conversion -- deteriorated to the point it was torn down.

The city estimates that 407 people would live in the apartments, with 22 jobs created by the housing, parking and retail operations. Property taxes paid to the city would rise from $63,000 a year to $550,000 over 15 years, according to city projections.

"There is an adage that more is more; that is true, particularly on the west side," Frank said. "The more critical mass is created, the more people will feel it is a residential neighborhood."

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