Standing in the shell of a future Remington Row apartment, with lights strung from wooden beams and no windows on a frigid morning, there wasn't much for Nicole Atkinson to see — until she put on 3D goggles linked to a discreetly placed camera.
Even Atkinson, who is doing public relations for Seawall Development Corp. to promote the $40 million apartment, retail and office project, was blown away by what she was seeing for the first time.
"This is amazing," she shouted as she took a virtual tour of the apartment as if furnished, from a bicycle hanging in the front hall to an electronic tablet sitting on the kitchen counter and comfy-looking sofas and chairs in the sitting areas. Seawall property manager Matt Pinto took Atkinson's arm to steady her from a slightly dizzying experience, and to stop her from wandering into beams, tripping over construction equipment, or walking out the windowless apertures and falling to the 2700 block of Remington Avenue, five floors below.
Other visitors on a hard-hat tour of the planned unit development site Jan. 13, including a reporter and a photographer, had similar reactions to the virtual reality demonstration, which was done by Ben Althoff, Seawall's director of visualization, or "3D guy," as he called himself to the delight of Shawn Brown, who this week began pre-leasing Remington Row's 108 apartments. Brown said she hopes to sell potential tenants on the idea of living in Remington Row's one- and two-bedroom and loft apartments — and she plans to lure them to the 200,000-square-foot building and let them put on the goggles in select apartments with the special cameras installed.
"I'd love to take people up here and show them," she said.
Remington Row might not look like much right now, with its muddy grounds, metal stairs and wooden planks to walk on, but Seawall plans to let tenants move in starting in May, according to Pinto and Seawall partner Evan Morville, who is also serving as the project manager. Morville and Pinto said there will be 15,000 square feet of street-level retail space, or about four to five retail stores and possibly more, depending on how the spaces are configured to suit business tenants' needs.
Morville would not name possible retail tenants, saying negotiations are still underway. But he said Seawall is focusing on service businesses, such as a bank or a dry cleaners, because residents in 2013 told Seawall officials at public meetings about the project that they wanted neighborhood, service-oriented businesses. At the time, Morville said Seawall was negotiating to bring in a grocer to help anchor the project, but he said last week that a grocery store is no longer part of the plans for the project.
The entire second floor of Remington Row, 30,000 square feet, will be leased by Johns Hopkins Community Physicians, a medical center that is relocating from Wyman Park. Floors 3 to 5 will be for apartments, and there will be three floors of underground parking for about 260 cars.
Also planned in the second phase of the project, in the 2800 block of Remington Avenue, is R. House, a $12 million food hall restaurant with 10 chefs, each cooking different menu items. R. House is expected to open this fall.
Baltimore Glass Co., which originally operated in the 2700 block, has relocated, at Seawall's expense, to a redeveloped warehouse in the 2900 block to make way for the apartment and retail building in the 2700 block. Morville said Seawall hasn't decided what to do with other properties it owns in the 2900 block.
Seawall also owns an 11-acre site nearby at 25th and Howard streets, where 25th Street Station, a controversial shopping center was planned with a Wal-Mart as its anchor. A previous developer scrapped the project in the face of community opposition, and the former owner of the site, the Anderson Automotive Group, has since sold the property to Seawall. Morville said Seawall wants to finish Remington Row before deciding what to do with the old Anderson site.
Morville said Seawall has high hopes for Remington Row, not just as a retail and housing project, but as a continuation of Seawall's efforts in recent years to improve the Remington community, much as neighboring Hampden has been revitalized with young professionals and boutique stores on its business corridor, West 36th Street, aka The Avenue.
According to a company press release, "Seawall's mission is to breathe new life back in to abandoned old buildings and to fill those redeveloped buildings with the people who in their everyday lives are making our cities better places."
Seawall, whose previous projects in the area have included redeveloping the old U.S. Census building at 26th and Howard as Miller's Court, with apartments aimed at new teachers and offices for nonprofits, envisions Remington Avenue as the Remington community's Main Street — and Remington Row as the centerpiece of that corridor.
Morville said his hope is that, "It brings people to Remington (and) puts Remington on the map in a way that allows people to see it in a different light."
Unlike Miller's Court and Union Mill, an old mill in Hampden that Seawall also turned into housing, Remington Row will not be aimed at new teachers, but at a wider audience of "working professionals," ranging from graduate students to nurses, firefighters, professors and entrepreneurs, Morville said. But the new apartments, at least some of which have a view of downtown Baltimore's skyline on a clear day, will be priced below market, with one-bedroom apartments ranging in rent from $1,175 to $1,700 per month and two-bedrooms starting at $1,600 a month.
The apartments will include free parking and amenities such as an elevated courtyard for grilling and gathering, a 24-hour fitness center and lounge, storage units, bicycle storage, a concierge and a car wash station, as well as the retail and restaurant.
"This is as luxury as any other project being built in the city, except that it's not in the (Inner) Harbor," Morville said. And Pinto referrd to the units as "stylish and thoughtful" apartments.
The project has been generally well received in the neighborhood, although some residents at public meetings expressed concerns about being priced out of Remington as the area gentrifies.
"We supported it from the get-go and we're excited to see it go up," said Ryan Flanigan, president of the Greater Remington Improvement Association. "For a large building, I think it fits into the scale of the neighborhood."
And Flanigan said he would be more interested in seeing a pharmacy in the building than in a grocery store.
But he noted, "I still get people in the neighborhood saying, 'What's that building going up there?'"