Lockwood Place downsized

3-story shopping center replaces skyscraper plan

August 06, 2004|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

Lockwood Place, a soaring $50 million mixed-use development planned for a key lot facing the Inner Harbor on Pratt Street, was drastically downsized yesterday.

Facing continuing questions about the building's design and a firm deadline for completion, developers scratched plans for a skyscraper that would have rivaled Baltimore's tallest buildings and said they would build a cheaper three-story shopping center instead.

"We're going to scrap our hotel project and apartments and go back to the three-story retail," said Tony Rodgers, vice president of A&R Development Corp. "We would put ourselves at significant financial risk if we were unable to finish the job by the given deadline of July 2005 for the retail."

The decision came hours after developers, who had proposed 29 stories of hotel, luxury apartments and retail space at 600 E. Pratt St., received their second rejection from the city's Design Advisory Panel in two weeks.

Work will begin immediately on the alternative 90,000-square- foot retail project estimated to cost between $10 million and $15 million, Rodgers said late yesterday.

"It is disappointing," Rodgers said. "We're very interested in doing the project. We just can't take the risk. Time was tight anyway. If we thought we were close to understanding what the design panel wanted, we may have submitted another plan. But our team left saying we would have to start back at [the beginning]."

The Lockwood Place project has languished for years, hostage to bureaucratic, legal and economic woes since the state legislature granted Baltimore City Community College permission to market the site, which it owns, to developers as a way to enhance its revenue in 1998.

A substantial financial penalty would result if the deadline for completing the retail space is not met, Rodgers said, because of financial guarantees made to the college and Kravco Co., the original developer. He would not reveal the amount of the possible penalties.

"We have a building permit," Rodgers said yesterday. "As of [today] we're going to tell the steel fabricator to release the steel and begin construction."

Rodger's firm and David S. Brown Enterprises Ltd., the project's developers, and architect Brown Craig Turner, brought a more elaborate design to the panel two weeks ago and were told to simplify it. But at least some panel members seemed to think that the design presented yesterday had swung too far the other way.

"Architecturally, it's incredibly cheesy and rudimentary," said Deborah K. Dietsch, a panel member. "I think it's gotten a bit bland. It's between important buildings. It's at a pivotal point."

The design panel held back preliminary approvals for the Lockwood Place project, saying that although members approved of a mixed-used development on the high-profile site at Pratt and Market Place, the resulting building would need to make the right statement.

"High-rise buildings should soar, and that suggests a certain verticality and slimness," M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., said during the meeting. "That I don't see before me."

Brodie could not be reached for comment late yesterday after the developers scrapped the tower component.

Lockwood Place, which would open to Pratt Street, is near the historic Candler Building, the World Trade Center and Power Plant Live.

The plan presented yesterday was for an L-shaped tower, which architects said would allow for significantly more rooms and apartments with harbor and water views. That configuration called for 29 stories, 250 rooms and 105 apartments.

"The L-shaped building to me is not convincing," said Mario Schack, one of the panel members. "I think a taller building in this part of the city could work quite well. We feel that on the site ... should be an elegant building, and what makes an elegant building can only be determined by further investigation."

After answering several questions from puzzled developers yesterday, Schack said: "We encourage you to work a little bit more. We think further effort would be worth it."

Preliminary financing commitments had been obtained for the project, and developers were close to identifying the flag for the hotel, Rodgers said yesterday. No city subsidy had been planned or requested, he said.

Officials at BCCC were waiting until the project received preliminary approvals before voting on the matter, Rodgers said.

"This is a very important site," Bryce A. Turner, president and chief executive officer of Brown Craig Turner, said after yesterday's meeting. "It's good to see that everyone cares passionately about the site."

He declined to discuss the project once its scope changed yesterday.

Three college employees declined to comment at the meeting yesterday. A spokeswoman did not return a call late yesterday.

Economic doldrums, along with an oversupply of projects, had led an earlier development team to eliminate a planned 278-room hotel and delay groundbreaking of the office and retail segments multiple times.

Along the way, the high-profile site had at various times been targeted as a headquarters for the law firm of Piper Marbury Rudnick & Wolfe LLP, a convention hotel and an office building.

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