When she envisioned a deluxe newsstand, the kind of place to find glossy magazines in dozens of languages, obscure literary journals and fashion quarterlies that cost as much as $90, Christina Cieri thought of only one location. Harbor East.
"If I couldn't do it here, I didn't want to do it," the Harbor News owner says. "Do you see it in Federal Hill? In Mount Vernon? In Fells Point? In Canton? I don't."She felt this neighborhood's promise and wanted a part of it. Here, she says, "it's all about the future."
Brick by brick, building by building, block by block, this neighborhood rising in a hurry at the water's edge is growth more intense than Baltimore has known.
The latest piece alone, and just an element of the mix, shatters city records for private investment with its fusion of offices, hotels, condominiums, stores and a multiplex.
Roads, if not the public transportation system, will have to bend to meet Harbor East's needs. Someday its tax payments will change what the city can afford.
While vast swaths of the city struggle to lure development, confidence saturates these streets. Stylish boutiques are moving in next to trendy restaurants, which open underneath exclusive apartments - even as coveted companies forsake the traditional business district to set up amid it all.
Harbor East, people agree, is tilting Baltimore's axis.
It's grabbing at downtown's boundaries - if not the essence of downtown itself - and forcing people to rethink truisms about everything from Baltimore's unrefined tastes and its economic potential.
All on what not long ago was an industrial stretch so grim that the businessman - a baker, of all things - who ended up with it only wanted it off his hands.
"This?" gasps John Paterakis, the H&S Bakery magnate behind Harbor East. "Whoever tells you we had it all planned, that's bull crap.
"When I look out at all of this I say to myself, `Not in our wildest dreams.'"
$11 million favor
All swagger and cigar smoke, Michael Silver looked like the man to watch in 1984.
Though just a couple of years earlier the bushy-haired former aide to Gov. Marvin Mandel was pulling in less than $40,000 a year at the state property tax office, the 39-year-old had become an overnight real estate force, amassing a breathtaking portfolio of expensive waterfront property.
When asked about his plans for the land, which stretched for blocks along the eastern side of the just-beginning-to-bloom Inner Harbor, Silver, puffing on his ever-present stogie, would say something like what he told The Sun that year: "I'd be foolish to tip my hand now. ... All you have to know is that I think the land is valuable and will become more valuable."
Within a year of that comment, Silver was bankrupt. Baltimore's Old Court Savings & Loan, which backed his land purchases, had collapsed after accusations of mismanagement prompted a run on the bank.
The would-be developer's fast talk and bad checks couldn't keep creditors at bay. Eventually they threatened to start selling his property, piece by piece by piece.
Although the land might have been desolate, dead space between Fells Point and the Inner Harbor, home to little beyond lots, lumberyards and warehouses, Mayor William Donald Schaefer worried what would happen if the wrong person picked it up in a fire sale. He couldn't have any mistakes so close to his five-year-old Harborplace, the city's first attempt at a real tourist attraction.
So Schaefer called on one of Baltimore's most well-to-do businessmen, someone with his own interests in the east side of town, someone who had given profusely to the mayor's campaign -Paterakis.
The mayor asked the millionaire to stave off Silver's banks by writing a check for $11 million. For the favor, Schaefer promised that in a year the city would buy the land for $13 million.
Paterakis put up the money. But Schaefer didn't honor the deal.
He told Paterakis the city budget was dry - and that even if it weren't, he thought Paterakis making $2 million off the arrangement would be a public relations disaster - as if the mayor had set up a sweetheart deal for a big donor.
"When Schaefer decided that, it was not the brightest day of my life," Paterakis says. "I walked out of his office and said, 'What am I going to do with 20 acres of land?'"
John Paterakis, who turned 78 Friday, is posing, stiffly, for photos in the lobby of his corporate headquarters on Fleet Street. He's affably, though not exactly enthusiastically, making an exception to his long-standing media avoidance practices.
The modest lobby, more of a roomy vestibule, would be bare if not for sedate portraits of Paterakis' parents, Greek immigrants who started the bakery from an East Baltimore rowhouse, and a bronze casting of a cowboy fighting to stay atop a bucking horse.
Together the two get at the heart of the Paterakis formula for success: Respect what got you here. Don't shy away from a wild ride.
Developing those 20 acres would prove to be a tumultuous ride indeed.
Paterakis shook off his initial instinct to sell. Except for investing in a Canton condo project, what did a baker know about real estate? But then he surrounded himself with people who knew real estate, hired an architect to outline a vision and got to work.
Although some of those behind Baltimore's then-revolutionary Inner Harbor and Charles Center redevelopment efforts urged Paterakis to stick to building homes, Stanton Eckstut, the architect, had other ideas - bigger ideas.
So Paterakis could see what he was seeing, Eckstut took him to New York's Battery Park City, on the water at the foot of Manhattan.
In that area, which Eckstut also planned, developers were building a neighborhood from scratch on piers once so neglected they had been crumbling into the Hudson River.
"When I went up there and saw all the large offices and the people living there and all the restaurants, I said that's what we have to have downtown," Paterakis says. "I said that looks good, but we have to convince the city fathers that's the way to go."
The vision wasn't exactly contagious.
"At the time," says Mark Wasserman, Schaefer's development coordinator, who's now a senior vice president at the University of Maryland Medical System, "all of us were awakening to what today most people consider axiomatic - that proximity to the water is going to make a very large difference."
But water wasn't everything, Eckstut knew. He wanted something of the city, something that while brand new, would seem intrinsically urban, like it could have grown up with Baltimore, as if it might have soul.
He wanted the traditional neighborhood where people walked to work, shopped at the corner, lived upstairs.
It was something of a giddy notion, considering that as he unveiled it in the late 1980s, the city was hemorrhaging residents. People apparently disgusted with all that urbanity were fleeing to greener, safer and more convenient county pastures.
"It shows we have not given up on public spaces in America," the architect told The Sun, trying to explain his chancy concept. "Now we just have to let the market build this thing."
Today Battery Park City has 9,000 residents, two hotels, a movie theater and seemingly unending square feet of commercial and office space. Yet its marketing slogan remains: Battery Park City: Who Knew?
And that's Manhattan.
In Baltimore, the vacant lots of Inner Harbor East, as the area was then known, sat for nearly a decade before any stirrings of progress. And those only after wheedling, rent-slashing - everything but outright begging.
Michael S. Beatty, president of H&S Properties, likes to tell the story of how he put Doug Becker in a cherry picker and lifted the founder of Sylvan Learning Systems about 100 feet into the air to show him what his view would look like if he became Harbor East's first tenant.
When Becker agreed to a floor in the office that was to rise on Lancaster Street, Paterakis still had to put up $32 million for construction - and personally guarantee the young entrepreneur's loan.
Sylvan became the first major public company to choose downtown Baltimore in two decades.
As the company unpacked in 1997, construction dust flew from Inner Harbor East's debut residential component, The Promenade apartments.
Paterakis forged ahead with The Promenade despite projections that the rents would have to be gutter low.
"Right from the beginning," says Tom Bozzuto, chief executive of the Bozzuto Group and Paterakis' residential development partner, "the demand exceeded the supply."
When the developers made a play for Whole Foods, the company's board flatly refused to take a chance on "pioneering" that part of Baltimore. They reconsidered only after Paterakis threw down the leasing gauntlet: The store would pay rent only if it made money, and the first three years would be free regardless.
To survive those rocky years, a developer needed guts, patience and serious money. Paterakis succeeded, those who know him say, because he had deep reserves of all three.
He'd need even more to score his site a hotel.
As Baltimore bulked up its sluggish downtown convention center, people began talking about the importance of complementing it with a new hotel.
Paterakis picked up the phone and dialed Beatty, his right-hand development man.
"He said, 'Mike, Baltimore needs a hotel and no one's going to do it so I guess we better,'" Beatty recalls.
If he could have foreseen the three lawsuits, bitter community protests and reams of editorial criticism, Beatty might have answered differently.
In 1997 Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke did choose Paterakis' proposal over two others. But critics squawked that the official convention center hotel would be a mile from the convention center. And they shrieked about the prospect of the hotel becoming a gambling house - everyone knew Paterakis wanted a casino.
In Paterakis' conference room, he has a shelf full of framed editorial cartoons from those days, one more scathing than the next. His favorite shows Santa Claus collapsed in the snow: Father Christmas apparently didn't have the stamina to make it to Inner Harbor East.
Schmoke took most of the heat.
At one point the mayor summoned Paterakis and the head of the Baltimore Development Corp. to City Hall.
"The purpose of the meeting," Paterakis says, "was the publicity we were getting."
Schmoke leaned across his desk, looked Paterakis straight in the eye and said, "You're not gonna let me drown, are you?"
Paterakis replied: "If you don't let me drown, I'm not gonna let you drown."
Schmoke, who's now dean of Howard University's law school, vividly recalls "the beating." He took it, he says, because he believed the east side's potential lay with that hotel.
"It was mainly the politicians saying put it on West Pratt," he says. "The private sector said it would be most successful at the water's edge. And they were willing to put their money into it.
"I believed in it, and sometimes you just got to take your lumps if you really believe in something."
When the 750-room hotel was halfway up - already reaching higher into the sky than anything on the east side of town - the company that was supposed to buy the finished building from Paterakis for $120 million ran into financial trouble and backed out of the agreement.
Guts. Patience. Money. Paterakis absorbed that cost, too.
As Paterakis unrolled his plans for Harbor East over the past decade, he benefited from tax breaks on nearly every phase. The subsidies disgust some in town while others marvel that he could get it done even with them.
"Whatever you do in today's world, it's a risk," Paterakis says. "I guess that's all part of the game."
The Marriott Waterfront boasts some of Baltimore's top occupancy rates.
Rents have hit the $4,000 mark at The Promenade.
Sylvan, now called Laureate Education Inc., having outgrown its original 30,000 square feet, has stretched into offices more than four times that size.
Whole Foods, with customers lining up to buy roasted free-range chickens and $7 jars of tamarind/ginger marinade, is paying rent.
A casino - even Paterakis admits - has no place here.
It's a gilded pioneer at Harbor East these days.
Purses that cost as much as car payments are arranged as deliberately as art objects at Handbags and the City. The shop has been open a year, and already owner George Sakellaris plans to expand into Harbor East's newest portion, set to open this summer.
"The shopping," he says, "is all going to be here. Down here is like the place right now."
Beatty flips through digital images of the future Four Seasons hotel and condos, which, when finished in 2010, will bring Harbor East's main story to a lavish close. He lingers over shots of the swank yet spare lobby, the loft-like living space with floor-to-ceiling windows, the "sexy" kitchens.
"It's for people who want to spoil themselves," he says.
It's for people with the means to spoil themselves. As is most of the neighborhood, really.
The more-than $500 million neighborhood will have 400-some apartments, nearly 300 condos, seven hotels, parking for almost 4,000 cars, a seven-screen movie theater, two spas, a gym with four indoor pools and plenty of restaurants where a dinner for two will easily push well beyond $100.
"It reminds me of Bethesda, what that area is turning into," says Kelly Clifton, an assistant professor of urban design at the University of Maryland. "It's going to be a behemoth."
Beatty would probably thrill with the Bethesda comparison. His philosophy for Harbor East has always been: "The best of the suburbs in the city."
He wanted to fill it with people who'd had it with downtown Baltimore, those who didn't feel safe there, hated worrying about parking, wondered where all the restaurants and shopping were.
"If you lived downtown," Beatty says, "it wasn't an urban experience."
Bill Struever, whose development company has joined with Paterakis on recent Harbor East projects, cringes at Beatty's mantra.
The community is working not because it's suburban, he argues, but because, for once in Baltimore, it's truly urban. Dense, dynamic and street-centric, the sort of place planners dream about.
On these coiffed legs of Fleet and Aliceanna streets, people won't find the quirks and imperfections that infuse charm into other parts of the city. This might not be authentically Baltimore, but it's authentically urban.
"Downtown," Struever says, "has become more comfortable."
And there's profound meaning in that, says Fred Kent, president of the Project for Public Spaces. Charm, he calls ethereal. But comfort - that's fundamental.
"It's not fancy," he says. "It's almost subliminal. You just know when you come into a neighborhood and people are comfortable."
Shift in gravity
"Downtown Baltimore is gone," Paterakis is saying. "It's just Pratt Street now; it's nothing.
"There was a time when if you owned property on Howard or Lexington street you thought you owned the world."
Now Legg Mason is abandoning its downtown tower to be next to the Four Seasons. Now, Paterakis thinks, Harbor East is almost more downtown than downtown.
Which is just the sort of thing Laurie Schwartz, a consultant and former deputy mayor for neighborhood and economic development, worried about when she realized what Harbor East was becoming.
Yet she now believes that if not for Harbor East, Baltimore might be losing companies like Laureate and Legg Mason altogether.
Martin Millspaugh, who led the agency that organized the Charles Center and Inner Harbor renewal projects, recognizes the shift of gravity - he saw it in the 1980s when Harborplace pulled Baltimore's financial district south to Pratt and Lombard streets.
It's just evolution, he says: It's healthy.
"Jolting, but refreshing at the same," is how Wasserman puts it.
"It should give anybody hope about the future of the city."
On some Sundays, Paterakis likes to drive in from his home in Timonium to spy on his creation, to survey it, like everyone else does, from the street.
He'll watch young people trek from Whole Foods to their Spinnaker Bay apartments, weighed down with organic this, vegan that.
He feels like a king.
"You wonder how you get into things - 'cause I'm a baker," he says.
"What's happening down here is almost a miracle."
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