Site now being cleared for Ritz-Carlton condos

Posh: The old Bethlehem Steel Propeller Yard building is coming down to make way for 165 expensive residences.

May 20, 2004|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

The Ritz-Carlton Residences, a long-delayed luxury condominium project planned on prime Inner Harbor land, officially got under way last night with the bite of a hoe into an abandoned warehouse on the site.

The building will give way to a posh, $155 million collection of 165 waterfront condos selling for $600,000 to $3 million and a spa, shops and a white-tablecloth restaurant.

There will be no hotel, creating a first-of-its kind residential project for the Chevy Chase-based Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., which manages Ritz properties.

It has been an especially hard journey to last night's ceremony, which had speeches from city officials and fire works on the program, officials and developers have said.

The project faced at times over the past five years financial troubles, legal spats over land ownership, the questioned abilities of a former developer and opposition from nearby Federal Hill residents who feared they would lose the harbor views and gain transient hotel guests and their cars.

But with demolition of the old Bethlehem Steel Propeller Yard building at 801 Key Highway, empty since the former industrial giant closed the vessel repair shop in 1982, the project finally appears on track.

The condos will take two years to complete, including a public promenade, once the old building is removed - an act that will strip away one of the last visible icons of the Inner Harbor's blue-collar past.

Industry does still thrive along Baltimore's waterfront, although farther out from the upscale shops, offices and homes that the Ritz will join.

Local developer Edward V. Giannasca II has partnered with Midtown Equities of New York and Samuel & Co. of Miami to build the Ritz.

City officials were thrilled at the idea of Baltimore as home to a Ritz. They noted that, unlike most major downtown developments, no taxpayer dollars were contributed.

At last night's groundbreaking Mayor Martin O'Malley praised the developer for his investment in the city, calling him "Edward V for vindication Giannasca."

Andrew Frank, executive vice president of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's development arm, said he wasn't always so sure the project would go forward.

Several financial experts had questioned whether lenders would go for an expensive hotel in tough economic times. It's generally easier to attract money for condos, which bring in income upfront.

"I used to call it the most written-about project that would never happen, but I'm happy to not be able to say that anymore," he said.

The condo development joins several other residential projects that have been built or are planned in the city, mostly along the waterfront but also on the west side and the heart of downtown.

Frank noted that 70 percent to 80 percent of the residents of the new housing are from outside the city, boosting personal income taxes collected and adding "feet on the streets" to shop and dine.

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