Developers unveil loftier plans, envisioning Harbor skyscraper

July 23, 2004|By June Arney and Meredith Cohn | June Arney and Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

A new skyscraper rivaling some of Baltimore's tallest buildings would rise in the Inner Harbor under a plan presented yesterday for one of downtown's most prominent, but long vacant, sites.

The proposed 28-story tower would house an upscale hotel, luxury apartments and retail and meeting space under the vision of the development team working to revive Baltimore City Community College's stalled Lockwood Place project at 500 E. Pratt St. Until recently, that space was expected to be home to a three-story shopping mall.

"One day people would look at this and say, `Why is there just a three-story building there?"' said Arthur H. Adler, principal at David S. Brown Enterprises Ltd., which has joined one of the original partners on the project, A&R Development Corp. of Baltimore. "We're trying to avoid that."

After its first public display yesterday, city Design Advisory Panel members applauded the overall plan but told its architects, Brown, Craig, Turner of Baltimore, to tinker with the design, which the panel thought needed be to be simplified.

Plans for the more than $50 million project include 120 luxury apartments, 250 hotel rooms, 60,000 square feet of retail space and about 12,000 square feet of meeting space. The tower's one-and-two-bedroom apartments are expected to rent for an average of $2,000 a month.

At 28 stories, the building, at Pratt Street and Market Place, would be just shy of the nearby 30-story World Trade Center and 31-story Baltimore Marriott Waterfront in Harbor East. The city's tallest building is the 35-story Legg Mason tower at 100 Light St.

Developers said yesterday they have preliminary financing commitments, but cannot finalize anything until the college and state sign off. No city subsidy has been planned or requested, Adler said. The developers estimated the tower would take about 18 months to build.

Owings Mills-based David S. Brown is a family run development company that has focused on the suburbs, but has also played a role in city projects. It's most recent and well-known Baltimore project, an office-apartment project called Symphony Center near the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, was also built in partnership with Baltimore-based A&R, one of the city's prominent minority developers.

Officials at BCCC could not say yesterday when the college would make a final decision.

"The board of trustees has not made a decision on whether to go forward with the hotel/residential version," said John Parham, executive director of human resources and the designated spokesman for the project. "What we need to do is to consider the fiscal impact on the college. Would it increase the cost of the project? Would it bring in more revenue? They need to weigh the costs and benefits of the hotel/residential initiative. The additional revenue it may bring to the college may be marginal at best."

City development officials clearly supported the multiuse idea.

"We accept the program," said M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., who attended the design panel meeting. "It's a question of what sort of form the program would take."

City hospitality leaders are excited about the prospect of additional hotel rooms in the heart of downtown. The city is negotiating with a development team led by Black Entertainment Television founder Robert L. Johnson to build a 750-room Hilton convention headquarters hotel just north of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

"Any addition to our hotel inventory is a good thing," said Debra Dignan, associate vice president of convention sales for the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association.

"Baltimore runs the ninth highest occupancy in the country," she said. "You can see how 250 rooms will be absorbed just as easy as 1,000 were three years ago."

When the 250-room Courtyard by Marriott-Inner Harbor opened in late 2000 and the 750-room Baltimore Marriott Waterfront opened in early 2001, there was no dip in occupancy level, she said.

John Davis, director of sales and marketing for the nearby Renaissance Harborplace Hotel, agrees that another hotel could be good for business.

"Over a long time, there was not a great deal of supply growth in Baltimore, and as market conditions improve and the economy improves, there's probably more opportunity to add hotel rooms in the city. It might make it easier to attract large conventions in the city," he said.

Rod Petrik, a lodging analyst and managing director at Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc., said demand for hotel rooms is picking up nationally after a slump after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Securing financing, generally a daunting task for hotel developers, is also easing a bit, he said. The city, however, faces a "chicken and egg" problem with hotel rooms.

"The city does not have enough rooms to fully utilize the convention center," he said. "When you book conventions you need to have rooms in place. But is there demand today? Maybe not. But if you build it you could have increased conventions."

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