2 Middle Branch projects advance in city process

September 14, 2007|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN REPORTER

Two projects to transform large swaths on both sides of Baltimore's Middle Branch waterfront are moving forward, including a sports-themed office and recreation park south of M&T Bank Stadium and a mix of new homes, shops, offices and a hotel along Westport's formerly industrial shore.

Gateway South, a sport-themed project planned for Russell Street to the Middle Branch, won city design approval yesterday for its master plan.

Cormony plans

The lead developer, Cormony Development, would build two large office buildings, one possibly as an iconic, football-shaped tower; a 90,000-square-foot sports complex with playing fields and recreational activities such as indoor golf, a fitness center and swim club; and shops.

The new buildings would overlook outdoor fields, bicycle trails and a protected marshland habitat.

"There are lots of good things happening here," said Douglas B. McCoach III, city planning director. "It will be a real icon when you leave the city, as well as when you arrive."

Also yesterday, the city's Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel reviewed design guidelines for the $1.4 billion planned Westport community, which is scheduled to go to the City Council on Monday.

Samuel Polakoff, managing director of Cormony, said the master-plan approval of the $200 million Gateway project, one of many key steps, means work could begin in the second half of next year.

Cormony and architects from Ayers Saint Gross showed the panel plans for more than 1 million square feet of office space, up to 150,000 square feet of shops and 3,000 parking spaces.

The larger, 700,000-square-foot office building would include two floors of parking and 80,000 square feet of retail.

The site is expected to also house the Ray of Hope Center, a tutoring and sports program for children run by Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who is an equity partner in Gateway.

M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., said he views the office park as a way for the city to compete with suburban areas in attracting companies seeking office space.

"This is an alternative to suburban office space," said Brodie, though he and some members of the panel expressed doubts about whether a football-shaped building would suit the needs of office users.

Plans for the Westport project call for 3 million square feet of office space, 2,000 homes, including townhouses, condominiums and apartments, 300,000 square feet of shops and a 500-room hotel. The hotel and some offices and possibly some residential units would be housed in a signature 65-story skyscraper at one end of the site.

The developers, Westport Development LLC, a joint venture of Baltimore-based Turner Development and equity partner the Carlyle Group, are negotiating with office developers, a hotel operator and a national builder to construct about 100 townhouses, said Cara Frye, the project manager.

Request to council

Turner Development will ask City Council members Monday to approve legislation creating a planned unit development, which would allow the various uses on the former site of factories.

The project, which also requires Planning Commission approval, would likely not go before the council for final approval before November.

Despite the real estate slowdown that has caused some area developers to scale back or delay condo projects, developer Patrick Turner has said that the market will turn up by the time the Westport units are ready.

Construction at the site is expected to start by March.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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