UB seeks luxury housing

Midtown garage, apartments planned

June 20, 2007|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Sun reporter

Hoping to enliven midtown Baltimore with new residences and shops while providing much needed parking for the University of Baltimore, the university and a private developer are proposing a $75 million luxury apartment project at West Mount Royal Avenue and West Oliver Street.

The Fitzgerald would have approximately 280 market-rate units and 14,000 square feet of street-level retail and wrap around an 1,100-space garage that could be used by students, faculty and the public, said Toby Bozzuto, executive vice president of Bozzuto Development Co.

The project in the Midtown-Belvedere neighborhood would be the first step in a larger vision to enhance the area around the university through redevelopment, Peter Toran, vice president of planning and university relations, said yesterday. Leasing what is now a parking lot would also generate revenue for UB, he said.

"We are really looking for projects to create a college-town corridor that connects the train station with Bolton Hill, and connects Charles Street to the Station North Arts District," Toran said. "We are looking to bring economic vitality to the middle of Baltimore, and when you add residences and retail and controlled urban density, we have the ability to transform this area."

The university is seeking approval from the chancellor of the University System of Maryland to lease the 4.23-acre property, now used as a surface parking lot, to Bozzuto, which would develop and own the five- to seven-story project. The project also is subject to approval by the state Board of Public Works, Toran said.

The developer is scheduled to present preliminary plans to a city design panel tomorrow.

The university chose Bozzuto, in partnership with PMI Parking, two years ago through a competitive bidding process and has been negotiating the land lease. If approved by the university system's chancellor, the project could go before the Board of Public Works next month, Toran said.

Bozzuto, whose company developed Spinnaker Bay apartments at Harbor East, said he views the project's location between UB and Maryland Institute College of Art, with a combined enrollment of 8,000 to 9,000, as ideal. It's also just blocks from Penn Station and next to light rail.

"It's a true transit-oriented development," he said. "It's a massive investment in this neighborhood."

At a time when the for-sale housing market has been sluggish, apartment rentals are strong, he said. He hopes to break ground on the Fitzgerald next spring and complete the project in two years.

"We imagine graduate students and young professionals, and we think it will have a diverse group of people renting," Bozzuto said. "We're very bullish on Baltimore. We'd like to have the highest rents in this neighborhood."

Currently, apartment rents in the neighborhood range from $1,200 to $2,000, he said.

Downtown Baltimore's apartment market has been strong, with property owners reporting full occupancy and as little as one-day turnover in tenants in many of the buildings, said Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership.

"All types of rental properties are doing well in downtown right now, from the west side to the Inner Harbor to the city center," Fowler said.

Projects expected to open this year include the 191-unit Zenith apartment tower, at Pratt and Paca streets near Camden Yards, the 183-unit renovated Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. building at 39 W. Lexington St. on the west side, and the 33-unit Abell Building at Baltimore and Eutaw streets. Hundreds more apartments are planned in projects from Mount Vernon to the west side to the Inner Harbor.

And not far from the proposed Fitzgerald project, in a section of midtown bordered by Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Howard and Dolphin streets and Madison Avenue, developers are working on plans for an $800 million project of offices, shops, a hotel and mixed-income housing to replace state-owned office buildings.

In the midtown area, "It would be a good bet to invest in the creation of apartments," Fowler said. "There should be significant demand given the proximity to Penn Station, the University of Baltimore and MICA as well as the cultural district. I can't imagine there won't be a strong apartment market emerging in that location."

Though no retailers have yet been signed up, the developers are hoping to bring in restaurants, cafes, coffee shops or a health spa, Bozzuto said.

Toran said the university's plans for redevelopment in the neighborhood include erecting an academic building on a university-owned parking lot at the corner of North Charles and Mount Royal. The university is also exploring possibilities for acquiring parcels along Oliver Street for mixed-use redevelopment such as residential and retail.

"The idea would be to use the university as a way to anchor and revitalize midtown and make the UB midtown area a vibrant, mixed-use, college town corridor," Toran said.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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