Rooftops burst off City Hall condos


August 16, 2004|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

Live next to the Mayor," suggests the sign on a historic loft building one block from Baltimore's City Hall.

That's not actually what people will be able to do in this building, since there's another structure between it and City Hall, and Mayor Martin O'Malley doesn't live in City Hall anyway.

Nonetheless, the sign heralds one of the more intriguing designs to be proposed this year for a local building conversion. Instead of creating residences entirely within the shell of the old manufacturing plant, the development team is building penthouses that will appear to be bursting from its roof.

Of the 38 upscale condos planned, eight will be all-new construction, rising above the building's original roofline. These rooftop residences will be particularly noticeable to drivers heading south on the Jones Falls Expressway, because their irregular forms and glass-and-metal exteriors will contrast with the brick and concrete body of the main building.

For those inside, they will offer unusual views of the city, including much of East Baltimore.

"It has good views of War Memorial Plaza, and you can see the harbor right down the street," said architect Peter Fillat. "There are also terrific panoramic views toward Johns Hopkins Hospital."

The six-story building at 234 Holliday St. was constructed in 1881 and has contained a variety of printing and manufacturing firms, including the Oscar T. Smith printing company. The developer, A & R Development Corp., is calling it the Breco Building -- a name it had 50 years ago -- after one of the companies once housed there.

The $7.5 million conversion is part of a trend in which several loft buildings near City Hall are being transformed for housing and entertainment uses.

With nightspots such as Hammerjack's and Club One, the area is taking on some of the characteristics of the Power Plant Live! district along Market Place. The new residences, tucked into sites such as Saratoga Court and the Munsey Building, keep people in the area 24 hours a day.

Fillat, head of Peter Fillat Architects, said he wanted the design of the Breco Building to convey some of the liveliness of the surrounding area.

"We wanted to create a dynamic response to the site because it's in the heart of this emerging entertainment district," he said. "Our thought was that this building could reflect some of the energy of the street on the upper levels."

The design team also wanted to reflect the building's location near a curve in the elevated expressway and has introduced curved and angled walls on the penthouse-level residences.

"It's a kinetic nexus," Fillat said. "All of these things come together at this point, and the building tries to thrive on that."

Prices for the condominiums range from $170,000 to more than $500,000. Construction is expected to start next month and be completed in a year.

The building will have space at street level for a cafe, lobby and some off-street parking. Condominiums will include open floor plans, exposed brick walls, large windows, hardwood floors, granite kitchen countertops and stainless steel appliances. The penthouses have private patios and optional fireplaces.

"It's a fantastic building because it has a lot of exposed concrete and brick, and high ceilings," Fillat said. "It's going to have a true loft feel."

Other design consultants on the project include: R. D. Jones Interior Design; STV Engineering and the Edgecombe Group Landscape Architects.

Many of the units have been reserved since the "Live next to the Mayor" sign went up several weeks ago, according to Bill Cassidy of Long and Foster Realtors, the company handling sales. "The reservations have poured in," Cassidy said. "That shows two things: the strength of the downtown market, and that the market is now more accepting of condominiums. Not too many years ago, they weren't considered so acceptable."

The sales could mean one more thing as well: People really do want to live next to the mayor.

Free gallery space

Artists seeking gallery space in downtown Baltimore may be able to lease temporary quarters for free, under a plan developed by three groups seeking to enliven city streets and fill vacant storefronts.

The Baltimore Development Corporation, Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, and Downtown Partnership of Baltimore have set Sept. 10 as the deadline for artists to express interest in occupying 2,000 square feet of space on the first level of 30 S. Calvert St., for at least six months.

The city owns the building and wants to make it part of a mixed-use development that could take several years to materialize. In the meantime, planners say, they would rather see the space filled with artwork and patrons than have it sit empty.

"The intent is to bring an active, creative use to this building while plans for redevelopment are completed," according to an announcement from the Downtown Partnership. There will be no charge for rent. Utilities, insurance and staffing will be the sole responsibility of the tenant.

Artists can visit the space during an open house on Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Representatives of the three groups will review the artists' applications, including samples of work, and select an occupant by Sept. 24. More information is available from Downtown Partnership vice president Marshall Snively at 410-244-1030.

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