Housing proposed at former balloon ride site

Cordish Co. envisions condos, apartments and retail level with entertainment theme


A 34-story residential tower would rise atop an underground Metro station in downtown Baltimore under a proposal to redevelop the former site of the defunct Port Discovery HiFlyer balloon, the city's economic development agency said yesterday.

The Baltimore Development Corp. is considering the proposal from Baltimore-based developer Cordish Co. for a $70 million, mixed-use development with up to 250 condominiums and apartments, a street-level entertainment-oriented retailer and parking. The tower would be designed by the architectural firm Michael Graves & Associates.

Cordish's proposal for the wedge of land at President and East Baltimore streets was the only one submitted. The BDC sought bids to redevelop the half-acre site next to the Port Discovery Children's Museum in August, just over a year after the helium balloon ride was grounded after stalling in the air with passengers during a harrowing, wind-whipped final ride.

The city, working with the Mass Transit Administration, is offering air rights above the Market Place/Shot Tower Metro station. The MTA will also review the proposal.

"The project will define a spectacular entrance to downtown ... and will complement the existing projects around it in both style and function," developer David S. Cordish, who was out of the country yesterday, said in an e-mail. "This will be a signature, gateway development unlike any other in the city. It's going to be a highly desired location regardless of the specifics of timing or the market."

Cordish is proposing a second option as well: building a 31-story tower at one end of Power Plant Live, the Market Place entertainment complex it developed, with a larger retail space extending over the Metro station. That option would require demolishing a restaurant building at one end of the project.

With both tower alternatives, an entertainment-oriented retailer would occupy the first level, ranging from 25,000 to 50,000 square feet and bringing the size of the project, including 300 to 400 parking spaces, to 230,000 square feet.

Cordish would say only that the national anchor tenant he has in mind is on par with tenants in other Cordish projects, such as ESPN Zone and Hard Rock Cafe, both of which anchor Cordish's Power Plant project on Pratt Street.

"The orientation is ideal because it appeals to families during the day and therefore is synergistic with Port Discovery and other Inner Harbor attractions, and also transitions to an adult-oriented development at night," Cordish said.

Andrew Frank, executive vice president of the BDC, said it would be premature to comment on the proposal. The BDC will review it and make a recommendation to Mayor Martin O'Malley.

"We're excited about the opportunity for this to be a truly transit-oriented development, where there is major density above a rail station, which is something you see in cities around the world that have metros," Frank said.

Developers have been more willing to take on challenging sites like this one, he said, because of a strong downtown market for housing and a shortage of available sites.

Frank said the city did not specifically request housing on the site, but "I'm not surprised, given the market for housing in Baltimore. It's a gateway site that presents opportunities for great views toward the water."

A representative of Port Discovery said that any new development that would benefit the city and the area would be good for the children's museum.

"Obviously, it would be great if something would complement the museum to bring families down here," said Michelle Winner, director of marketing for the museum.

"We're hopeful this entertainment would be family-friendly, anything that you feel comfortable bringing your children to. We hope the city will make the right decision as to what to do with that space."

Other members of the Cordish development team, besides Michael Graves, include general contractors Clark Construction Group LLC and Banks Contracting Co.

lorraine.mirabella @baltsun.com

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