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Design unveiled for Inner Harbor tower

Plans call for 43-story building in blue glass at old McCormick site

By Natalie Sherman, The Baltimore Sun

8:50 PM EDT, April 10, 2014

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A developer unveiled designs for the next Inner Harbor skyscraper — a 43-story residential tower sheathed in reflective blue glass on the site of the former McCormick & Co. spice factory — at a meeting Thursday with city officials.

The renderings by a prominent Chicago architecture firm met with praise during the presentation to the city's Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel.

Questar Properties' plans call for a three-level building at 414 Light St. that rises to nearly 500 feet at its tallest, with an angled peak. The structure, swollen slightly in an elliptical shape, is meant to draw on the colors of its prime waterfront location and evoke the sail of ship, the developer and designer said.

The tallest, slimmest part of the building shoots up at Conway and Light streets, a kind of spine wrapped by a second, 33-story stack of luxury apartments. Closest to the street, first-floor shopping and a wall of apartments hide a 460-space parking garage, creating a six-story base that would stretch almost the full length of the block.

"Even though it's tall, it has a lightness to it," said Diane Jones Allen, a member of the city design panel. "It really does connect to the harbor. ... It's almost as if it were coming up across the street."

The division of the building in three, slow-rising steps, creates space for two outdoor roof decks, with a swimming pool, fire pits and other amenities that overlook the Inner Harbor. The 372-unit property also will include a small dog park.

"The concept we're trying to present to you today is really a resort-style, four-star or five-star hotel-like experience," said Stephen Gorn, chairman and CEO of the Pikesville-based developer.

The 1.9-acre site, which Questar Properties bought at auction for $11.5 million in 2011, has been used as a parking lot since the McCormick building was demolished in the late 1980s. As proposed, the new building would be among the tallest in the city. The tallest, at 529 feet, is the nearby Transamerica building at 100 Light St.

The new tower, projected to cost at least $130 million, represents the first phase of development for the site. Plans for a second phase, which could involve a similar tower, have not been settled, Gorn said.

Plans for the ground level include an elevated plaza and 12,500 square feet of retail, which could be occupied by restaurants or a grocery store.

Questar also is talking to the city about creating just three lanes of southbound traffic on Light Street after Conway, where two of the five lanes take a required right turn toward Camden Yards and Interstate 395.

Devon Patterson, principal at the Chicago-based architecture firm Solomon Cordwell Buenz, presented the proposal. The firm's other buildings include the Legacy at Millennium Park condominiums in Chicago, which won the Urban Land Institute's Best Urban Project award in 2012, among other accolades.

"You're really well on your way to achieving that elegant and distinctive piece of skyline, with it being truly elegant and not something that calls attention to itself because it's quirky or strange," said Planning Director Thomas Stosur.

Earlier, Stosur joked that he had just one question: "When can you break ground?"

Gorn said he hopes to start construction by the end of the year.

Thursday's review concerned the broad outline of the building. The panel would have to approve a more detailed design before the project could move forward.

nsherman@baltsun.com