UMB plans to extend a development trend

Architecture Column

December 24, 2007|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun architecture critic

From the cover Three historic buildings on the west side of downtown Baltimore will be preserved as part of a $40 million hotel, apartment and restaurant complex conceived by the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

The University System of Maryland Board of Regents selected a team headed by A & R Development of Baltimore to carry out the project, which will preserve the former Drovers and Mechanics National Bank building at the northwest corner of Eutaw and Fayette streets, the front portion of the former Sons of Italy lodge on Fayette Street and the former Devine Seafood building at 110 N. Eutaw St.

The development will include a 140-room Marriott Town Place Suites hotel, a 207-space garage, about 90 market-rate apartments, an upscale restaurant and other street-level retail space.

The project is the latest sign that the University of Maryland's academic campus and medical center in Baltimore are growing northward and stimulating redevelopment of additional properties.

It's also part of a west-side trend in which three or more properties are consolidated to create one large development rather than being rehabbed individually. Other examples include the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, the Centerpoint apartments and the Fayette Square student housing.

Consolidating properties is a good way to create the critical mass that makes privately funded redevelopment feasible and fundable, said Terrence Smith, the university's senior associate vice president for operations and planning.

By itself, the Drovers building might not be large enough to do much with, he said, but by combining it with existing buildings and new construction, a developer can create a more complex, marketable project.

"It's ideal for this neighborhood," he said of the proposed development. "It meets a variety of needs that the university has."

The hotel is an "extended stay" brand that has the potential to serve several market segments at once, including hospital patients waiting in town for a transplant, visiting faculty members and delegates attending a conference, said Robert Tennenbaum, director of real estate development for the university.

The hotel also could house actors and others in town for performances at the neighboring Hippodrome theater, Tennenbaum said. The lower level of the Drovers building, meanwhile, could be an impressive restaurant space, he said. "The interior is magnificent, with a coffered ceiling and huge columns."

The land - nearly an acre - is bounded by Eutaw, Paca and Fayette streets and Marion Alley. It's north of the France-Merrick center and south of the Lexington Market Arcade.

Most of the property was acquired by the university over the past decade and will be leased to the developers on a long-term basis. Two buildings are being acquired by the city to be part of the assemblage.

The most prominent structure is the former Drovers bank, an 1894 structure designed by Joseph Evans Sperry and expanded in 1917. It has been vacant since the 1980s.

The front portion of the Sons of Italy building will be preserved as part of the development, but a rear section most likely will be removed to make way for new construction.

Along with the smaller Devine Seafood building, the Sons of Italy and Drovers structures have been identified by preservationists as being worth preserving. A fourth structure, the former Palmer House restaurant on Eutaw Street, will be torn down to make way for new "infill" residences.

The university selected A & R to be "master developer" over three other groups that expressed interest in the project early this year. A & R developed the Fayette Square student housing one block to the west.

Other members of the team include: Murphy and Dittenhafer, the master architect; Gordon & Greenberg, the consulting hotel architect; R.D. Jones & Associates, the interior designer; Whiting-Turner, the general contractor; Hospitality Partners, the hotel operator; and Parkway Corp., the parking-garage consultant and manager.

The preliminary plan calls for the Drovers building to be rehabbed and combined with new construction to provide about 80 market-rate apartments on the east side of the block, with an upscale restaurant in the bank's former grand banking hall.

The front portion of the Sons of Italy building on Fayette will be renovated for six more apartments, and the former seafood store on Eutaw Street will be renovated for retail space.

The Marriott hotel will rise on the west side of the block. Early plans call for a five-story hotel over a four-level garage, with retail space and a hotel lobby at street level.

Besides preserving the historic buildings, the architects say they will try to include eco-friendly features such as "green" roofs that limit rainwater runoff.

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