UB seeks developers for four Midtown parcels

Mixed-use projects seen adding energy to area, profiting school

University would hold long-term leases

October 22, 2004|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Looking to infuse the city's improving Midtown area with new energy while increasing its revenue, the University of Baltimore will begin seeking proposals today from developers for projects on four vacant parcels near the school now being used as parking lots.

The university, part of the statewide system, says it is looking for a "landmark, world-class project" that would include a parking garage and a mix of commercial, housing and retail uses for the unconnected properties, which are near Penn Station, the Lyric Opera House and Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

The university would continue to own the properties, which total a little more than 6 acres and eventually could support development worth about $100 million, and would derive an unspecified amount of money from long-term leases still to be negotiated, officials said.

"The stronger the community gets, the stronger we get," said Robert L. Bogomolny, president of the university. "The potential for what this could mean long-term for the city is, we think, very exciting."

Of the four properties, the largest is an approximately 4 1/4 -acre lot behind the Lyric Theatre and next to a light rail station known as Bolton Yards. That area could be expanded by finding a new spot for an adjacent U.S. Postal Service maintenance facility, officials said.

Others are a 1 1/4 -acre lot on North Charles Street next to Penn Station and two small properties within a three-block stretch of Cathedral Street.

Officials envision that the development would be done in stages, with the first to be completed in 2007.

Charles Duff, executive director of the nonprofit Midtown Development Corp., welcomed the solicitation of development proposals. "Who wants to have a bunch of vacant lots sitting around?" he asked.

Duff said the Bolton Yards site was particularly important because it could accommodate "high intensity" development without infringing on the historic character of much of the area.

"I think that's the most important piece of vacant land in inland Baltimore," he said.

One event that would be directly affected by the development of the Bolton Yards site is Artscape, the city's hugely popular annual three-day summer arts and music festival, which for the past three years has used the property as a food court.

Bill Gilmore, executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, which runs Artscape, said the development would mean that the festival would have to come up with a new plan but that it would not leave the area where it has been since it started 23 years ago.

"You just adjust accordingly," he said.

Area on the rise

Even without development of the University of Baltimore properties, the Midtown area has been the scene of increased investment in the past several years.

Major new buildings have been constructed or proposed at the Maryland Institute College of Art off Mount Royal Avenue; at Symphony Place across from Meyerhoff Symphony Hall; and at a parking lot on North Charles Street just south of the university.

The median home sales price in Midtown and several surrounding neighborhoods jumped from $139,625 in 2000 to $235,000 last year, according to Vital Signs III, the latest report by the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance.

Today's requests for proposals follows by a week the groundbreaking on a $75 million bookstore and residence hall complex at the Johns Hopkins University in Charles Village. Unlike Hopkins, however, the University of Baltimore, which has only upperclassmen and graduate and law students who commute to class, is not looking for new buildings for its own use and says it will not spend any of its own money on the development.

A cost-savings plan by University System of Maryland officials recommends making better use of space at the University of Baltimore during the day, and Bogomolny said his school has enough room to increase its enrollment by about 1,000 students, to 6,000 students.

Neighbors' concerns

The university's most recent venture in development riled area residents and some preservationists because it involved the demolition in May of the 1915 Odorite building at Mount Royal and Maryland avenues to make way for construction of a $14 million student center.

"The university certainly has the opportunity to get back in the good graces of its neighbors," Duff said. "A good building or two could go a long way in doing that."

The deadline for developers to provide their qualifications is Jan. 10. The deadline for more detailed proposals on how the properties would be developed is tentatively set for late March.

Final proposals must get the approval of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents and the state Board of Public Works, officials said.

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