Brothers developing luxury out of blight

Builders: Pair hope to transform the area east of Hopkins Hospital with townhouses running $850,000 and up.

July 16, 2005|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

The word on the street just east of Johns Hopkins Hospital - an area where small trees poke through broken front steps and rows of rat-infested houses stand empty - is that millionaires are moving in.

On Hopkins Row, in the 500 block of N. Castle St., developers Michael and Garrett Goss of Ricco Design & Development are betting that they can turn run-down, 12-foot-wide townhouses into an opulent oasis. Recently, the brothers sold three renovated townhouses for $850,000 apiece, according to settlement documents they produced. They've purchased houses for as little as $12,000 and are spending many thousands more to rebuild them, they say.

Developers have created high-end housing from slums before. As Chicago tears down Cabrini-Green, a notoriously violent public housing complex, developers are building luxury condominiums and a Starbucks. In Baltimore, adventurous residents moved into parts of Bolton Hill and restored blighted rowhouses to their early-20th-century charm.

That's the sort of Cinderella story that the Goss brothers are hoping for. Their optimism is rooted in a $1 billion redevelopment project to create a biotechnology park that's expected to transform neighborhoods near Johns Hopkins Hospital.

To lure upscale buyers, the Goss brothers are outfitting the houses with deluxe extras such as cream-and-gold Jerusalem limestone, Italian cabinetry, bamboo flooring, flat-screen televisions, state-of-the-art security and lighting systems with dozens of ambience settings.

Renewing neighborhood

Charles Jones, 51, who lives on Jefferson Street across from Hopkins Row, said he never expected to see the type of housing he associates with movie stars to be built in his neighborhood. Hopkins Row sits in the police department's sprawling Eastern District, which has recorded 25 homicides and 49 shootings so far this year, according to police.

"I looked at the diagrams and I couldn't believe it," said Jones, a 10-year resident who says he has already received about a dozen letters from real estate agents asking him whether he'd like to sell his rowhouse. "That tells me that this is going to be prime real estate," said Jones, who doesn't plan to sell any time soon.

The Goss brothers, who grew up in Washington but now live in Baltimore, say they are bringing a new level of residential architecture and design to the city. They believe their project will have a domino effect that will help to change the face of the east side, an area that has frustrated city officials who have failed so far to revitalize it. The developers are receiving no financial assistance from the city other than street improvements.

"This is going to be one of the hottest addresses in the city," said Michael Goss, 34, who serves as project spokesman. Besides his 41-year-old brother, who goes by the nickname Gary, the business team includes Division One Architects, a Silver Spring firm that kicked off a flurry of redevelopment in the U Street Corridor of D.C. with a five-house project called Logan Heights.

Division One partner Ali Honarkar said that when his firm broke ground on Logan Heights, the surrounding neighborhood was also undesirable. But its proximity to Howard University and the U Street Corridor, Washington's version of Harlem's 125th Street, proved enticing enough.

The 2,200-square-foot rowhouses sold for between $400,000 and $850,000. Last year, the first buyer sold his house for close to $1 million.

"Our whole attitude is, `Why wait? Let's just do it,'" said Honarkar, a 1992 graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park. "Let's not wait for the next up-and-coming area. Let's create the next up-and-coming area."

Otis Rolley III, Baltimore's planning director, gushes when he talks about the Hopkins Row project. "It's beautiful, just beautiful," said Rolley, who visited the Castle Street project about two months ago. "They are really pushing the bar, and that excites me. It really is a new day in terms of rowhouse construction and architecture. What they are doing is really creative."

The Hopkins Row project started several years ago with the Goss brothers quietly acquiring rowhouses in the 500 block of N. Castle St. They chose the block because they knew they could buy a large group of houses at once, before real estate prices increased. They also knew that a cohesive redevelopment project had a better chance of success than a piecemeal one.

The Goss brothers started with 12 houses and now own about 26. They're working to find new housing for tenants in some houses. City officials say they've heard no complaints from the neighborhood. Michael Goss, who lives in one of the Castle Street houses, knows most of his neighbors by name and has hired some to work on the project.

Opulent details

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