Pricey condos cropping up along the city's waterfront

Projects: Baltimore joins other large cities, adding high-end housing as rich baby boomers leave suburban life for downtown luxury.

October 19, 2004|By Bob Erle | Bob Erle,SUN STAFF

The already expensive Baltimore housing market is about to get even pricier.

Developers recently broke ground on a Ritz-Carlton in Federal Hill in what is slated as a 5.6-acre, $155 million luxury condominium project. And with crews set to begin construction this spring on a $180 million Four Seasons hotel and condominium complex across from the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront, the city's unprecedented era of luxury condominium development is in full swing.

Real estate experts said these types of million-dollar luxury residences are in demand thanks to an influx of baby boomers who are selling their homes in the suburbs and looking to retire in style. These pricey condominiums offer amenities such as concierge services and security that affluent boomers demand. And their downtown location on the waterfront provides a certain cachet that many empty nesters envy.

City officials believe that having such prominent chains as the Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons provides a certain amount of prestige that other cities such as Washington and Philadelphia enjoy. Officials at the Ritz think the project will be completed in late 2006 while the Four Seasons is tentatively scheduled to open in January 2007.

"Any city that has a Four Seasons kind of raises the bar for the city because not every city has one," said Nancy Hinds, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association.

The Ritz-Carlton in Baltimore will be the first Ritz built without a hotel component and will offer residents a gourmet restaurant, movie theater and private elevators. The proposed Four Seasons would have an indoor and outdoor pool and access to the Bulle Rock golf course in Havre de Grace.

Living in this kind of style comes with a price. Costs for a single unit at the Ritz range from $800,000 to more than $4 million. Although the Four Seasons hasn't set prices for units yet, residences at a similar Four Seasons in Boston go for about $1 million. The price for a condominium or townhouse in Baltimore City averaged $142,061 in August, according to Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.

Officials at the Ritz report they have received deposits on 27 of their 174 units. The Four Seasons, which hasn't started selling units, is planning to build 32 condominiums.

William Cassidy, sales manager for Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. in Fells Point, said luxury condos provide residents with various services so that when they travel, everything will be taken care of while they are gone. And, he said, one of the most important amenities isn't tangible.

"There has to be a certain uniqueness that makes me feel I am the king of the hill," he said of luxury condominium buyers.

Paul Levy, president of the Center City District, a group dedicated to improving Philadelphia's private-sector business, said a 10-year property tax abatement on improvements there helped spur development of luxury condominiums in the past few years.

According to a recent report by the group, there were 922 more condominium projects this year than in 1998, the year after the abatement plan was approved. Levy said the condominium projects have renovated vacant buildings and enticed more residents with higher percentages of disposable income to the city.

Marie Howland, professor of urban studies and planning at the University of Maryland, College Park, said the reason for the advent of these luxury condos in Baltimore is supply and demand.

"Developers go where the money is," she said. "There happens to be a market for it and developers are responding."

Baltimore Realtor Margaret Rome, who has been in the real estate industry for almost 15 years, said luxury condominiums are emerging as hot properties in Baltimore's renewed housing market.

"This is going to meet the needs of a lot of professionals and hospital staff, the successful doctors, established business people," she said.

Rome said the group most interested in these luxury residences are the baby boomers who don't want to maintain their large homes now that their children have moved out. They have equity and are willing to spend money to avoid mowing lawns and trimming trees. And because they have no children at home, they are adding tax dollars to city schools without taxing those services, she said.

Rick Goldfarb, a certified public accountant from New York, visited the Ritz sales office its opening weekend this month to inquire about a permanent residence. Goldfarb, who was looking to move to Baltimore to be closer to his significant other, read about the Ritz-Carlton project in a local newspaper and liked what he saw.

But not everyone is pleased with the pricey developments.

Carolyn Boitnott, coordinator for the Waterfront Coalition, which monitors downtown development, expressed concern about the Inner Harbor East where the Four Seasons is to be built.

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