West Side apartment tower proposal sent to mayor

Developers have proposed building a $19 million apartment tower in an area slated for revitalization on downtown's west side that would include 92 affordable and market-rate rentals but would require city and state tax subsidies.

The board of the Baltimore Development Corp. on Thursday planned to send a recommendation on the proposed Liberty Park project to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. In a closed-door session, the board combined what are typically separate discussions about whether to award development rights and grant a property tax subsidy request, an attempt by board members to move the project forward as housing demand has surged in the area.

The developer, Liberty Park Redevelopment LLC, made an unsolicited bid to transform a section of the so-called Superblock bounded by West Fayette Street, Park Avenue, Marion Street and Liberty Street, a swath the city has offered unsuccessfully for redevelopment in the past.

Developers would purchase and demolish several vacant, city-owned buildings as well as acquire and preserve a former Healthcare for the Homeless building on Park Avenue in hopes of starting construction within a year and a half.

Liberty Park would be a 14-story tower with a mix of studios and one- and- two-bedroom apartments ranging from 539 square feet to 748 square feet. Monthly rents are estimated to average $1,454 for market rate units and $895 for those who qualify as low-income tenants, according to the developer's proposal.

The project would be built a block east of a $150 million proposed development known as Lexington Square, where developers plan a 269-unit apartment building, a 650-space underground garage and shops. That project, which has been stalled by legal challenges, was granted an extension Wednesday by the city's Board of Estimates, giving the developer until Dec. 31 to purchase the property from the city and start construction.

City officials say rental housing demand is strong on the west side, with occupancies of 95 percent or more for most of the new or renovated apartment buildings that have opened as the city has worked to spur private redevelopment in the area.

The Liberty Park project, which would reserve 20 percent of the units, or 18 apartments, for low-income residents who meet affordable-housing guidelines, would give a considerable boost to west-side housing, said M.J. "Jay" Brodie, BDC president.

"What we want on the west side is an urban neighborhood," Brodie said.

Under the Liberty Park proposal, principal developers Anthony Waddell and Chris Harrison would buy five city-owned buildings for $837,000, Brodie said. Most of the now-vacant buildings would be razed, but a facade of a building on Park Avenue would be retained. The former Healthcare for the Homeless building would be restored and incorporated into the development, all of which would require review by the Maryland Historical Trust.

Brodie described the project as one of the more complicated in the west-side redevelopment because of the mix of tax subsidies requested. The developer has asked for a Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or an agreement over a set period for a reduction of city property taxes, mortgage assistance from the city and low-income housing tax credits from a state pool.

The BDC board discussed the requested financing assistance in its closed session. Details were not disclosed.


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