Big plans emerge for city property

Tower, `boutique' hotel among ideas for land at Calvert and Lombard

September 14, 2004|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

A 25-story luxury apartment tower and a 116-room "boutique" hotel are among the ideas developers have come up with to enliven a dreary but critical part of downtown Baltimore.

Three developer teams have submitted proposals for properties now controlled by the city just north and west of the Brookshire Suites hotel at Calvert and Lombard streets.

The hope is that residences or hotel rooms, along with street-level retail space, will give Inner Harbor tourists reason to venture farther into a downtown area that may not seem welcoming to many.

"It's a great development site, and we're very pleased with the response we've received," said Andrew B. Frank, executive vice president of the quasi-public Baltimore Development Corp.

It will take BDC staff until late next month or November to recommend one of the plans to the agency's board, Frank said, and the board will then report to Mayor Martin O'Malley.

Because the approval process could take months even after a developer is chosen, the Downtown Partnership business group has come up with a novel stopgap measure.

Artists will be invited to set up shop rent-free in one of the Calvert Street buildings, so long as they open a gallery or find some way to interact with the public passing by.

All three of the development proposals envision residential or hotel uses, in keeping with a shift away from that area's historical role as the city's core business district.

The most ambitious plan came to the city unsolicited, prompting the formal request for proposals.

A team led by developer Mark Sapperstein and the Shelter Group proposes a $70 million tower called CityScape. It would rise 25 stories, with the first 10 for parking and the top 15 for 300 luxury apartments with balconies and a rooftop pool. Shops would go at street level.

"It's going to be the highest-end quality," said Sapperstein, estimating the apartments would rent for $2 a square foot, or somewhat pricier than the Munsey and Standard apartment buildings to the north.

He said the success of those buildings indicates a large demand and that CityScape would provide a more luxurious option for employees of companies such as T. Rowe Price.

Sapperstein said nine of the 300 units would be reserved for tenants with lower incomes "because it's one of the mayor's initiatives and it's sorely needed."

As for financing, Sapperstein said Mercantile Bank is "very interested."

The other two proposals are both named, coincidentally, Calvert Square.

One calls for 70 to 90 short-term luxury rentals, plus ground floor retail and 120 to 140 parking spaces. The developer, Shaffin Jetha, converted the nearby former USF&G headquarters into a Hampton Inn. He did not return a telephone message yesterday.

The third plan is for a 116-room "boutique" hotel, 62 for-sale condominiums and 250 to 300 parking spaces. It would have a public courtyard. The developer is ADOF Development Group, a new entrant on the city's development scene. ADOF's Floreal Bueno could not be reached to comment yesterday.

One question is whether any of the developers would seek city financial assistance, and how much. "We don't know yet," said M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of BDC.

The idea to install artists at 30 S. Calvert St. grew out of a conversation Brodie had with Kirby Fowler, the Downtown Partnership's new president.

"It would bring some immediate life to the street," Fowler said.

The only cost to artists would be utilities and insurance. But even though they would get visible work space, they would have to be prepared to move in as little as six months.

The partnership has received nine applications and will keep the window open for several more weeks. Fowler said he is open to all kinds of possibilities, from painters to sculptors to performance artists.

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