Apartments planned for long-vacant downtown buildings

The city Wednesday approved the $2.2 million sale of six long-vacant properties close to the Inner Harbor to a developer proposing to turn them into market-rate apartments.
PMC Property Group, Inc., which owns and operates about 700 apartments in Baltimore City, expects to spend roughly $30 million on the 188-unit project, said Steven Bloom, operating partner for PMC Property Group's Baltimore office. The company has been in negotiations with the city since 2012 about the properties, which lie just north of the Brookshire Suites and were once slated for a hotel redevelopment.
Now that the Board of Estimates has approved the land disposition agreement, PMC will go before city design boards for approval, with the hope that construction can begin "immediately," Bloom said.

"Downtown Baltimore has been crying for [redevelopment] for a long time," said Bloom, who has been in negotiations. "It's time for Baltimore to get back to where it was before."
The city has been trying to revitalize this stretch of Calvert Street, which sits just one block from the Inner Harbor, since 2001, acquiring some properties through eminent domain. The Baltimore Development Corporation solicited bids from developers in 2004, receiving proposals that included apartments and a hotel.
The Board of Estimates in 2009 approved the $4.5 million sale of seven city-owned properties, including the buildings that are part of the current PMC deal, to a development team proposing an $80 million hotel, dubbed the Hyatt at City Center project. 

That agreement expired in 2012 and the deeds did not change hands.  (The BDC canceled a $1.5 million demolition contract for the properties in 2009 after the Baltimore Sun reported the agency was not following open-bidding rules.)
When the BDC asked for new proposals in 2012, PMC was the sole bidder, according to BDC meeting minutes.

"When the city sells something it takes a long time," Bloom said of the negotiations. "At the end of the day, they've got to go through all the right protocols."

Plans for the first phase of the PMC project call for the renovation of a 12-story former United States Fidelity and Guaranty Company building at 26 S. Calvert St., with 78 apartments ready for occupation as early as the end of this year, Bloom said.

The second phase of the project involves preservation of two other historic buildings at 30 S. Calvert St. and 31 Grant St. (also known as 117 Water St.) as well as demolition of three smaller buildings at 32-36 S. Calvert St., according to the Board of Estimates agenda.

They will be replaced by a 9-story structure with more apartments, Bloom said.

Depending on demand, the company also plans to reserve 6,000-18,000 square feet for retail on the ground floor of the buildings, Bloom said. 

The project will use a city tax credit for apartment developments and is seeking federal historic tax credits as well, Bloom said. Construction and operation could create 50-80 jobs over the next two years, he said.

Bloom said he is not worried about a glut of apartment buildings. PMC's current properties, which include apartments at 101 Wells St. and 301 N. Charles St., are about 95 percent full, he said.

"If you pick the right location, you pick the right building and build it as we do ... I am not worried about overbuilding," he said. "If you pick some stuff that's on the fringe ... you may not get that filled as quickly."

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