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Offices, apartments in latest proposal for 1 Light Street

A 404-foot glass apartment and office tower would spring from a Light Street parking lot near the Inner Harbor under a Virginia developer's proposal put forward Tuesday.

Metropolitan Partnership Ltd.'s plans call for a 33-story building, with roughly 340 apartments and 10 floors of offices atop a 646-spot parking garage. The garage would be hidden behind a stone facade about as tall as the neighboring Thomas Building, a historic French Renaissance-style structure owned by McDonald's Corp., which has a restaurant on the ground floor.

The current proposal for 1 Light Street adds 10 floors of offices to the plans for a 22-story, $110 million apartment project presented last summer, when the Baltimore Development Corp. backed $28 million in bonds to help pay for the parking garage.

The addition of office floors in the tower plan likely reflects interest in the office space, possibly from M&T Bank. The bank's leases at 25 S. Charles St. and at Montgomery Park are set to expire in 2016 and a bank official attended Tuesday's meeting.

"We don't comment on negotiations that are not yet complete," said David Gillece, regional managing principal of DTZ, which is handling the search for M&T.

The company expects to remain in downtown Baltimore, said spokesman Phil Hosmer, who declined to say if the company is negotiating to lease the 1 Light Street offices.

"It's for further development of the financial district," Metropolitan CEO Cary M. Euwer Jr. told city officials Tuesday. "It supports what we're doing at 10 Light."

Metropolitan is converting the historic Bank of America building at 10 Light Street into apartments. Euwer declined to comment on the project beyond his public remarks.

Development on the 1 Light Street site, where the Southern Hotel stood until it was demolished in 2000, has been discussed for decades without coming to fruition. Metropolitan's entry into the project as a joint venture partner with the site's owners was hailed by city officials as a sign that something might actually happen on the lot, a key downtown block.

"For me, this is a 25-year anniversary. We acquired this property when it was Main and Main and our intention was to build more office. It's only taken 25 years," said J. Joseph Clarke, representative of the property's longtime owners, Mirecourt Associates, an affiliate of Capital Guidance Corp.

Members of the city's design panel raised questions about the imposing nature of the stone base and its relationship to nearby buildings, as well as plans to locate an entry for trucks servicing the building opposite the metro stop on busy East Baltimore Street. The presentation by Gerald Briggs of URS/Aecom also only showed landscaping along Light Street.

The project has backing from city leaders as well as the Downtown Partnership, which has made the site's development a priority.

"I do think this is a promising start to a very challenging site that we're really excited about," said Planning Director Thomas J. Stosur.

Metropolitan made its presentation at a meeting of the city's urban design and architecture review panel and later at a zoning board meeting.

The design panel also considered a proposal by Baltimore-based WorkShop Development Inc., which wants to build a 16-story tower with about 240 apartments and 7,000 square feet of retail on the site of the former Della Notte restaurant.

Tuesday's session was an introduction to the scale of the project, not specific designs. Hord Coplan Macht, the architecture firm for the project, said the building would bring vitality to President Street and serve as a gateway for further transformation of the area.

"We just think this is an awesome site to continue the momentum that is growing here," said architect Lee Driskill.

Plans call for retail at the corners of the site, as well as two-story apartments along President Street. The proposal also includes a large parking garage for residents at the back of the site, with entry off Albemarle Street.

The developer also approached the city about making the area more pedestrian-friendly, including improving the median at WorkShop's expense, said principal Doug Schmidt.

"We want to do a terrific project that's, long-term, a great benefit to the city and something we can all be proud of," he said.

Panelists said they are not convinced that people will want to live on the much-trafficked President Street. They also raised questions about the size of the garage, as it backs onto the smaller row homes in Little Italy.

"Maybe this neighborhood is not going to stay low-rise, but, if it is, then this building has to be much more compatible with its neighbors than I see in this proposal," said one panel member, Judith Meany.

WorkShop Development Inc., based at the nearby Bagby Furniture building, has the property under contract and expects to purchase it in April. Della Notte closed in 2013.

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