State narrows bidders for WTC

Select group gets deadline for offers on harbor landmark


State officials have narrowed the field of potential buyers of Baltimore's World Trade Center, the slim, pentagonal tower that has marked the Inner Harbor for three decades.

The state Department of Transportation put the 30-story office tower on the market in December. Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said yesterday that the state has given a select group of bidders a new deadline by which to submit firm offers. Flanagan did not disclose that deadline.

"We've had a very good response from a very large number of bidders, but what we've decided to do at this point is narrow the field down to a smaller group of interested parties who have given us preliminary proposals that are all very close together in price," Flanagan said.

Those potential buyers will continue in a period of in-depth due diligence before making final offers, the secretary said.

"From there, we'll determine which offer, if any, is in the best interest of the state," Flanagan said.

He declined to say how many offers the state has received or how many potential buyers would compete for the waterfront property at 401 E. Pratt St., which is currently 30 percent vacant.

Commercial real estate experts and state and city officials expect strong interest in the tower because of its prominence, historical significance and waterfront location.

The government plans to sell the signature tower as an office building and keep its Maryland Port Administration headquarters there three to five years, state officials said yesterday.

Under the urban-renewal plan for the Inner Harbor, a new owner would have the option of changing the use from office to hotel, residential or retail or some combination of the four.

City officials say they're hoping some form of public use for the iconic building will continue under new ownership.

"The building has always been viewed as a public building, and as it transfers from public ownership to private ownership, we'd like to see the use continue to contain some form of public aspect to it," said Andrew B. Frank, executive director of the Baltimore Development Corp.

The city has secured a 20-year extension of public access to the top-floor observation deck.

Flanagan said the state chose to narrow the bidders to a manageable number based on advice from Colliers Pinkard, the commercial brokerage handling the sale. Philip C. Iglehart, a managing director of investment services group at Colliers Pinkard, could not be reached yesterday.

Real estate experts have said the 278,000-square-foot trade center could fetch a price similar to recent sale prices of other downtown office towers. These include 300 E. Lombard St., which sold for a then-record $172 per square foot in 2004, and 100 E. Pratt St., which this year sold for $207.5 million, or $312 a square foot, the highest price ever paid for a Baltimore office property.

But the World Trade Center's prime spot on the harbor has also been a drawback for occupants. The building has a history of flooding, including severe water damage two years ago from Tropical Storm Isabel that disrupted businesses and displaced tenants for months.

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