Future, History Collide

Developers of Park Place envision a multi-use space for residents, while some in Annapolis envision heavy traffic and congestion


A few months ago, J. Jeremy Parks responded to an e-mail from an engaged woman about the planned Park Place development. The four-star hotel slated for the 13-acre site at the edge of downtown Annapolis was the only place she deemed large enough and grand enough to hold her reception. When would it be open?

The developer gave her the bad news: At least two winters from now.

"She was willing to wait," Parks said.

Longtime developer Jerome J. Parks and his son Jeremy have always been willing to wait, too. Six years after they bought the first of several parcels near Westgate Circle, work began this summer on a $300 million commercial, residential and retail project that is unusual in scale for a mostly developed Colonial-era city.

The pair said they could always see past the rundown properties, the first of them purchased in 1999. Their plans call for a mix of condominiums, boutique shops, office space, community space and a performing arts theater, draped in classic architecture.

The Parkses spent years winning the support of Annapolis residents and finding an investor who shared their vision for the site. Meantime, the project's cost doubled.

"The idea of Park Place is that it is an inclusive piece of Annapolis, offered to the residents of Annapolis," Jerome Parks said.

Not everyone embraces this vision for the site, which borders several established neighborhoods.

At a city council meeting last week, several residents voiced their support for more restrictive zoning along West Street because they worried about the "canyonization" of the two-lane road. As an example, they named Park Place as a project that is out-of-scale for Annapolis.

For all the amenities that Park Place will bring, some residents are also concerned about the traffic that such a development will attract.

Scott Mobley, president of the Annapolis Neck Peninsula Federation, questioned whether the traffic improvements proposed by the Parks Cos., including the widening of adjacent Taylor Avenue, will suffice.

"He did a good thing in getting out to the community," Mobley said of the Jerome Parks' initiative to gain public support for Park Place. "But we don't know the practical impact on the area."

The first phase consists of an office building, a 225-room, six-story Westin hotel, about 208 condominiums, a clock tower and 1,500 underground parking spaces, the last financed by $25 million from the Annapolis City government. The Parks Cos. hopes to finish that phase in 2007.

The Parks Cos. plans to release at least a partial list of retailers this month for the 60,000 square feet of shops. And sales for the expected 208 condos, with a starting price tag of $550,000, are moving at a brisk clip, with more than 100 contracts signed. Interest in living at Park Place has extended to the United Kingdom and Germany.

The developers have also sought to address the city's need for high-end office space, planning for two buildings that will provide about 200,000 square feet of such space.

Westin Hotels & Resorts signed off on a deal in January to be the tenant for the 225-room, four-star hotel.

The Parks Cos. has recently brokered a deal with the last holdout business, clearing an area off Taylor Avenue that will be the site for a prroposed 1,200-seat performing arts theater. A nonprofit group is raising money to build the theater.

Such a culmination of different uses in one place is more common in suburban areas, where large chunks of land are more plentiful.

Hayden R. Jones, vice president of the Carlyle Group, an international investment firm that's partnering with the Parks Cos., said that finding prime real estate in a historic area - and enough of it to build an expansive development - is rare.

Jones said that other cities with similar historic character, such as Cambridge, Mass., and Alexandria, Va., don't have that kind of prized land in their core areas. He noted that Cambridge has an outright prohibition on development.

"It's very difficult to get ... approval in such a historic area," Jones said.

Jerome and Jeremy Parks knew of the potential when they began buying land near Westgate Circle that over generations was home to auto body and collision shops, an oil depot and a lumber yard. West Street, Taylor Avenue and Spa Road converge at the circle.

The elder Parks drew his inspiration for the project from a trip to Paris in 2000. He saw a consistency of architecture around every corner that spoke to the city's identity, and he wanted his project on West Street to reflect the character of Annapolis.

So he looked to the Naval Academy, and the classic French lines of Beaux Arts design reflected in its architecture, as the inspiration for Park Place. The aboveground network of roads will be paved with cobblestones. Jeremy Parks objected to using asphalt.

"I didn't want to create architecture that conflicted with Annapolis," the elder Parks said. "I wanted it to have a lasting quality."

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