Merritt Properties plans new office tower near the Canton waterfront

Baltimore developer Merritt Properties plans to build a 20-story office tower in Canton that will continue the transformation of the area’s industrial waterfront.

Merritt and its architects showed preliminary plans Thursday for what would be a $70 million building fronting Boston Street, the thoroughfare that parallels the Inner Harbor, to the city’s Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel. It would be built on a parking lot between the street and the Canton Merritt Club fitness center.

Merritt has announced no tenants for the new building but hopes to begin construction this year and finish in 2021, said Gary Swatko, Merritt’s director of development and construction, who was among those representing the developer.

The structure will stack many floors of offices on top of multiple levels of parking and first-floor retail stores, according to renderings developed by Hord Coplan Macht architects.

The development will abut the Shops at Canton Crossing shopping center anchored by a Target, a Harris Teeter grocery store and, soon, a Nordstrom Rack. On the other side stands the 17-story CareFirst office building developed more than a decade ago by a 1st Mariner Bank executive who saw commercial potential along the working waterfront.

But that tower remains largely surrounded by parking lots and low-lying buildings. The Columbia-based real estate investment trust Corporate Office Properties Trust bought a harborfront parking lot just east of the CareFirst building in 2014 and proposed a large office project with four buildings, shops and restaurants, but not much has happened there since.

COPT could not say when the project might begin because it is seeking tenants before committing to construction.

“It fits in with the steady growth that’s planned,” Swatko said. “We’re finally seeing growth again nationally and locally. It’s all good for the Canton community.”

Swatko said once the offices are opened, they are likely to bring more amenities to serve those who work in them. An apartment building is already in the works across Boston Street. Many other old commercial and industrial buildings around the greater Canton area have been refurbished and turned into housing and shops.

Coupled with the development of the Harbor East community, the new Canton tower would continue to pull the center of the city’s business community to the east.

Merritt, which is headquartered in Woodlawn, has built and manages dozens of properties in and around Baltimore. Merritt’s construction services arm, overseeing the office building, also recently oversaw the first-floor expansion of the nearby Merritt gym, as well as upgrades to the interior of the CareFirst building.

The city’s design review panel is the first stop in the planning process. Panel members were mostly complimentary of the largely glass structure that will have terra cotta design features.

Some members questioned the nine floors of parking, saying they likely would annoy drivers who would have to wind their way up them. Gary Bowden, a retired architect and University of Maryland School of Architecture professor, said they also could translate into too many spaces years down the road as people turn to technology and their own feet to get to work and to shop.

Chan Byun from Hord Coplan Macht, who presented the designs, said there may be ways to alter the building so there are fewer parking floors, or build them so they could be redeveloped more easily.

But, Merritt officials said, based on demand in other nearby buildings, to which many people travel alone in their own cars, there likely would be a need for the spaces for years to come.

They noted that the massive suburban-style surface lot in the shopping center next door is frequently at capacity.

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

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