State Center to get makeover

Struever to lead building of offices, stores and homes

March 21, 2006|By LORRAINE MIRABELLA | LORRAINE MIRABELLA,SUN REPORTER

Developers led by Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse have been chosen to transform the state's aging Baltimore office complex into a hub of offices, shops, housing and a hotel centered around public transit, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is expected to announce today.

The $800 million project will encompass 25 acres and be completed in phases beginning next year, state officials said yesterday. Ultimately, it could be the springboard for the revitalization of a 110-acre swath of midtown over two decades, with 3,200 homes, 1.2 million square feet of privately developed offices and 570,000 square feet of retail, they said.

Ehrlich is scheduled to announce the selection of the Struever team and the kickoff of the multiphase project, planned in conjunction with city and neighborhood representatives, this morning at the midtown complex that has housed state agencies since 1959.

"This is clearly a golden opportunity based on its location," Robert L. Flanagan, state secretary of transportation, said yesterday. "It is located at the intersection of Baltimore's subway system, the light rail and six MTA bus lines. It is also in the midst of some very strong communities, but those communities are isolated from each other in many ways by this site."

The goal is to cluster a mix of uses that would incorporate the government agencies, but also include shopping, entertainment and housing. Flanagan said the number of housing units and the total square footage of office and retail has not yet been determined.

"It's going to be a combination of what the marketplace is interested in and what the community wants," he said.

Flanagan said the Struever team was chosen based upon its experience with mixed-use and transit-oriented development. The company's Baltimore projects include Clipper Mill in the Hampden area and a retail-condominium project as well as a student dormitory and Barnes & Noble bookstore near the Johns Hopkins University.

Developers were asked last fall to submit qualifications, not plans.

William Struever, a partner in Struever Bros., said he hopes to tap into the strong market-driven demand for working and living in the city.

"This is an incredibly important opportunity for West Baltimore, to take acres of old and tired state office buildings that could be something far greater and more important in the life and economy of our city," Struever said.

He said the project fits his company's interest in developing large-scale, mixed-use projects in "edge neighborhoods" that can create an environment where people can work, live and find entertainment.

While still in the conceptual stage, the project will likely include both rental and for-sale housing for a mix of incomes.

"We're really looking for true market-rate housing, housing at the higher end of the market, and housing affordable to families with starter jobs and coming out of public housing to work force housing," Struever said.

Struever Bros. also plans to build a hotel in partnership with H&S Properties, developer of the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront in Harbor East, Struever said.

Other members of the development team include McCormack Baron Salazar of St. Louis, which will be a co-developer with primary responsibility for developing the mixed-income housing. Over the past three decades, MBS has developed 13,000 units of mixed- income housing in 25 cities by working with community groups, institutions and state and local governments.

Other projects

Another team member, Doracon Development, has done work in Harbor East with Struever Bros. and in the East Baltimore biotechnology park near Johns Hopkins Medical Center.

It is too early to say whether the state will continue to own the site, or sell it and lease office space from the developer, Flanagan said.

The state owns four buildings with about 700,000 square feet of space that house various agencies and departments, including General Services, Health and Mental Hygiene, Labor and Licensing, Planning, and Assessment and Taxation.

Struever said he hoped to attract local and national retailers and restaurants, coffee shops, cafes and a grocery store.

The office space could accommodate the state agencies while also helping to meet the strong demand he has seen in his company's other office projects in Hampden, Canton, Fells Point and Locust Point, he said.

State initiative

Plans to redevelop the 25-acre site were prompted by a continuing state initiative to maximize the potential of state-owned property, Flanagan said.

Since last summer, state transportation and planning officials, as well as the city's planning and economic development divisions and representatives of five nearby communities, Bolton Hill, Upton, Mount Vernon, Seton Hill and McCulloh Homes, have worked to craft a vision for the site.

The group focused on the state-owned land, a swath bordered by Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Howard and Dolphin streets and Madison Avenue, where about 3,500 state employees work. The site includes the historic 5th Regiment Armory, which is to remain as is.

Tim Ingles, chairman of the committee on State Center for the Mount Royal Improvement Association, the neighborhood association for Bolton Hill, said many residents in the surrounding neighborhoods would like to see a full-service grocery store and the creation of new jobs come out of the plan.

`This gulf'

Now, he said, "there is this gulf, this netherland of empty land that is State Center after hours and on weekends," he said. "It would be nice to have a viable, walkable urban area."

Flanagan said he anticipated a specific plan to emerge over the next year to year and a half, with construction to begin in 2007.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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