Residences may rise at Redwood and Light

ARCHITECTURE

Tower would add to upscale housing

November 29, 2004|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

The northeast corner of Light and Redwood streets has long been a place for people on the move - most recently as the site of the 14-story Southern Hotel and before that as the setting for the historic Fountain Inn.

But it may soon be the address for people who want to make downtown Baltimore their more permanent home, if the owners proceed with their latest redevelopment plan.

Seeking to tap into the growing market for upscale housing in Baltimore's central business district, J. Joseph Clarke Enterprises and Capital Guidance Corp., owners of the property known as One Light Street, are considering plans to build high-rise apartments or condominiums there.

Their plan represents a shift in thinking about the prime downtown parcel, which has previously been eyed for offices, a hotel or both.

J. Joseph Clarke, managing agent for the development team, said he has been thinking about residences since last summer and asked the architectural firm of Hord Coplan Macht in Baltimore to design a residential tower for the site.

The architects drew plans for a 28-story tower that would contain 248 residences and 410 parking spaces, plus commercial space at street level.

Clarke said he has been impressed by the number of people moving to downtown Baltimore in recent months, primarily to apartments in recycled office or loft buildings, and thought the Light Street property would be an ideal location for new construction.

He said he has been looking for a development partner who specializes in housing and has had strong interest.

"This is the direction that I see the site moving in," he said. "It's not a done deal yet, but we're warmer than we've been in a while."

"To have apartments at that location would be dynamite, because you can walk to so many things," said architect Ed Hord. "There's a great appetite for downtown living right now."

Hundreds of downtown apartments have been occupied in recent months, with the opening of developments such as Centerpoint, the Munsey Building, the Standard Building and Saratoga Court.

An apartment tower is under construction at the northwest corner of Howard and Lombard streets; another is planned for the southwest corner of Pratt and Paca streets. Thirty-eight upscale condominiums are being created at the Breco Building two blocks north of City Hall.

The One Light Street property is bounded roughly by Light, Redwood, Baltimore and Grant streets. Besides the old Southern Hotel, built in 1917 and razed starting in 1998, an office building at 5 Light St. was demolished to make way for redevelopment, and four low-rise buildings in the 100 block of E. Baltimore St. still face demolition.

The parcel does not include the Thomas Building at Baltimore and Light streets, a six-story structure that is owned by McDonald's Corp. and contains a McDonald's restaurant.

Designed by Otto Simonson for builder Abraham J. Fink, the 400-room Southern Hotel was one of the city's premier hotels during the first half of the 20th century. Many Baltimoreans have fond memories of parties and dances in the "Spanish Villa" on the roof. Last used as a hotel in the 1960s, it became the home of an engineering school that moved out in the 1980s and was subsequently acquired by Clarke's group.

Over the past decade, Clarke and his partners have promoted plans for a 45-story office tower and mixed-use developments containing offices and an Embassy Suites hotel, but they have been unable to obtain the funding needed to proceed with construction.

Clarke said the chance of building an office tower is remote at this point because the downtown market already has an abundance of office space, and hotels can be difficult to finance.

He said city planners have already tentatively approved plans that call for construction of a seven-story structure containing street-level retail space and parking above. He said this base could be modified to support a residential tower above, rather than offices or a hotel.

Hord said he envisions a "very sleek" building that would be a counterpoint to the historic Bank of America tower at 10 Light St.

A rendering created by the design team indicates that the building would have a glass and metal skin, with floor-to-ceiling windows and balconies enabling residents to take advantage of panoramic views.

For the corner of Light and Redwood, where the Southern Hotel stood, the designers created a "blue cube" that could contain offices or loft apartments. It would provide a slipcover of sorts for the parking structure to the east.

The top of the garage would be the first level of the residential tower, with amenities such as an indoor pool, exercise room, theater, community room and landscaped terrace.

For now, Clarke said, the land is being used as 46 parking spaces for the law firm of Miles and Stockbridge, which recently agreed to keep its headquarters at 10 Light St.

"I wanted to applaud them," Clarke said, "for signing their new lease."

Student housing

The Maryland Institute College of Art today will begin demolishing a building at 1601 Mount Royal Ave. to make way for a $20 million student residence facility to be designed by RTKL Associates.

The vacant Ditch, Bower and Taylor building will be razed over the next three weeks to make way for the housing, expected to open by fall 2007.

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