Panel OKs Harbor East design

Legg project clears preliminary hurdle

April 13, 2007|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Sun reporter

Plans for a new skyscraper for money manager Legg Mason and a Four Seasons Hotel and condos in Baltimore's Harbor East community passed one of the first hurdles yesterday, getting preliminary design approval from a city panel.

That approval clears the way for the $600 million complex to go before the City Council for review, but still leaves a host of design issues to be resolved.

Mayor Sheila Dixon is reportedly mulling a financial assistance package recommended by the city's economic development agency, which Harbor East's developer says is necessary for the project to move forward.

In February, Legg Mason Inc. signed a 15-year agreement to lease up to 400,000 square feet in a 24-story waterfront office tower to be built alongside a Four Seasons by H&S Properties Development Corp.

H&S Properties has been transforming the former industrial site east of the Inner Harbor into a mixed-use, urban neighborhood of apartments, condominiums, offices, hotels, shops and restaurants.

Members of the city's Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel granted approval of the preliminary design, but said the developer needed to think more creatively about creating signature buildings and making the most of public space in the waterfront community.

"I feel like we've trying to achieve signature buildings without a signature public space," said Mark Cameron, one of the panelists. "More could be and should be done with the public space."

Plans presented to the panel yesterday show two glass towers with brick and glass podiums, with a waterfront promenade wrapping around both and outdoor areas for restaurant seating. A 1,200-car parking garage would be built underground.

"I still feel like the towers should not be twins," said Deborah K. Dietsch, a panel member. "The hotel could have more of a residential feeling. There is a disconnect between the towers and the base. The most disturbing part of the project is the loss of public domain. You've really privatized the promenade," by reserving large chunks for use by restaurants.

The developer had always planned the twin towers as part of the Four Seasons complex, but had originally intended one for the hotel and a second for condos.

Since signing up Legg Mason, the developer has revised those plans, with one tower containing a 240-room hotel topped by a limited number of luxury condos and the second tower to be designed specifically for the Legg Mason headquarters. Legg expects to move nearly all of its roughly 1,000 Baltimore-area employees to the new building by 2009, leaving its signature Light Street skyscraper at 100 Light St., the tallest building in the city at 529 feet. Speculation had swirled early this year that Legg could leave downtown, fueled in part by a change to Legg's corporate bylaws recently to delete a requirement that its headquarters be located in Baltimore.

The city's economic development agent, Baltimore Development Corp., had a long, closed-door meeting about the company, BDC President M.J. "Jay" Brodie had confirmed.

After signing the lease with Legg Mason, the Harbor East developer requested financial assistance from the city, Michael S. Beatty, president of H&S Properties, said yesterday. Beatty would not discuss how much or what type of financial help H&S Properties was seeking, but said the developer has typically made such requests in its projects at Harbor East.

Beatty said the package would be key to moving forward with the Legg Mason tower because of the high cost of office tower infrastructure that was not already in place, as it is in many cities that are trying to lure company headquarters and other major employers.

Without help from the city that allows H&S to proceed with the costly project, "Legg Mason will end up somewhere else," Beatty said. "A tenant like that gets wooed all over the place."

A Legg Mason spokeswoman said the company had not been involved in seeking a financial package. "It has nothing to do with us," said Mary Athridge, the spokeswoman. "We got a deal that we thought was good for employees and good for shareholders and we're happy with it."

"We'd always been committed to staying in downtown Baltimore," she said. "This was a great opportunity, and we had to take advantage of it."

A spokesman for the mayor said Brodie met with Dixon to outline the BDC's recommendation for financial assistance but that she had set no timeline for making a decision on whether to accept that recommendation and send it to the city's spending board for approval.

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