Baltimore gains downtown housing

Work wraps up on BGE building and Zenith tower

January 18, 2008|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Sun reporter

Two high-profile apartment projects in downtown Baltimore have wrapped up construction and are adding several hundred luxury residences to the market, one in a historic, former office building in the hub of west-side redevelopment and the other a new building overlooking Camden Yards.

Construction is nearly done on the 183-unit former Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. headquarters, a nearly century-old Beaux-Arts building at 39 W. Lexington St., and the developer is kicking off leasing this weekend.

And the long-delayed The Zenith, a 191-unit tower at 511 W. Pratt St., marked completion of construction yesterday, though some tenants started moving in late last year. The apartment tower is 20 percent leased and 13 percent occupied, a Zenith manager said.

Both projects are expected to be big contributors to the transformation of downtown from a predominantly business district to an area where people live and shop as well as work. They are part of the 3,265 rental units that have been added since 2000, downtown, which was double the number of downtown apartments it had a decade ago, said Bob Aydukovic, vice president of economic development for the Downtown Partnership. "It shows that demand for downtown housing is very strong," Aydukovic said.

About 955 rental units are in various stages of construction downtown, with several large projects slated to open this year. In addition, hundreds more are planned in various projects, including in the city's old retail district near the former BGE building.

Despite a slowdown in the for-sale side of the housing market, interest in leasing has grown and rents are rising, Aydukovic said.

At The Zenith, apartments rent for $1,350 for a studio, an average $1,800 for a one-bedroom, and an average $2,600 for a two-bedroom, said Corinne Warner, property manager for The Zenith, which was developed by Brian D. Morris, Dean S. Harrison and Ronald H. Lipscomb.

The six two-story penthouses, all of which overlook Camden Yards, range from $3,200 to $4,600 a month, Warner said.

"Studios have been our most popular, and two of the six penthouses are leased," she said.

The developers are negotiating with a restaurant tenant to open on site, possibly by summer, Warner said.

The $42 million project at 39 W. Lexington St. project transformed the former BGE headquarters, which opened in 1916 as the headquarters for BGE predecessor Consolidated Gas, Electric Light and Power Co. of Baltimore.

The conversion restored features such as carved marble panels with figures that represent knowledge, light, heat and power, and cast- iron work on the fa?ade.

The building's top floor houses five two-story duplex apartments and the 19th floor, the former BGE executive floor, has retained such features as oak paneling and fireplaces, said developer David Hillman, chairman of Southern Management Corp.

Rents for apartments, which include studios, and one and two bedrooms, range from $1,300 a month for studios, to $4,000 for penthouses, including utilities. The building will offer concierge service and a limousine for getting around town, Hillman said. Plans call for a restaurant that will front on Liberty Street and a coffee shop.

Demand for new west-side apartments has been strong, said Ronald M. Kreitner, executive director of WestSide Renaissance Inc., and 39 W. Lexington "broadens what the options are."

Aydukovic said The Zenith, which opened for leasing in October, has averaged four leases a week, a strong pace especially in the winter months and in the face of new competition.

"Rents continue in an upward trend, and we're still not seeing any massive shifts of renters from one building to another," Aydukovic said. "This is all new blood."

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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