The Exelon building opening is a significant step for Harbor Point, a Beatty Development project that has been in the works for more than a decade.
The first residents moved into the black glass tower's 103 apartments early this summer. Exelon and its subsidiaries began moving into the 20-story building named for the parent of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. last month.
On Friday, Exelon will celebrate the tower's official opening with the developer and city officials, fulfilling a promise to the state related to its 2012 takeover of BGE's then-parent Constellation Energy Group and marking the culmination of more than a decade of planning and work to convert the polluted site of a former chromium plant into a gleaming development of offices and homes.
The opening moves 1,500 Exelon and Constellation employees from two downtown office buildings near the Power Plant to the new $270 million building beyond Harbor East's offices and luxe hotels, expanding Baltimore's economic center further east along the harbor away from the aging core.
City officials and developers welcome Harbor Point's emergence as an opportunity to transform Baltimore's downtown and restore the city's reputation as a home for corporate headquarters.
"Choosing this site, putting their signs on the sides of the building is like sticking a flag in the ground and saying, 'This is a great place to be,'" said Marco Greenberg, vice president of development for Beatty Development, which is behind Harbor Point.
"This building and the broader plan to transform Harbor Point exemplifies what we can accomplish when economic development is done right," said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in a statement. "Exelon is part of the next wave of prosperity for a new generation of Baltimoreans who just like generations past, have come to the waterfront to find opportunity and entertainment."
Beatty's master plan for Harbor Point calls for 1.6 million square feet of office space and 910 residences plus stores, restaurants, a hotel and 9.5 acres of open space and parks.
The planned $1.8 billion project is expected to receive $400 million in public subsidies, including about $110 million in tax breaks, plus $107 million in city bonds for infrastructure that will be repaid by the project's property taxes.
The vision for Harbor Point is shaped by Beatty Development founder Michael Beatty's experience in Harbor East, the waterfront development next door.
While Harbor East is dense with skyscrapers filled with offices, high-end restaurants and retail, Harbor Point will feature more open space, affordable dining options and residential units to make it feel more like a neighborhood, Greenberg said. The area's dining options, for example, will be a mix of quick service lunch spots and affordable sit-down restaurants — all local or unique concepts.
The Exelon building is the first addition to the development in years. The first and only other building, Thames Street Wharf, which is anchored by Morgan Stanley, opened in 2010.
The project took years to come to fruition as the economy recovered from the recession, financial crisis and housing bust and as the developer wrestled with the 27-acre site's thorny environmental issues.
A chromium refinery operated at the site near the mouth of the Inner Harbor for 140 years until 1985, polluting the ground with cancer-causing hazardous waste. Allied Chemical, the last operator, remediated the land, installing a cap to keep chromium out of the harbor, the air and nearby groundwater.
Beatty Development negotiated a construction and pollution monitoring plan with environmental regulators since it needed to drive piles through the cap for the Exelon tower and future buildings. The details were settled in 2014 and construction began.
The building delivers on Exelon's promise to establish a regional headquarters in Baltimore. Now the nation's largest utility company, Chicago-based Exelon remade Constellation as a wholesale and retail energy supplier. BGE maintains separate headquarters in Baltimore.
Now that the new building is open, Exelon and Constellation officials said they are excited to occupy the new space, especially a state-of-the-art trading floor larger than a football field.
"It's definitely been a long time coming," said Joseph Nigro, CEO of Constellation and an executive vice president for Exelon. "It's an amazing space."
Constellation's 650 energy traders were spread out across multiple floors at their cramped old offices, but here they will all be together — a change Nigro said he thinks will improve work flow, training opportunities and decision-making.
The Exelon building's 103 apartments are more than 90 percent leased and it also features 750 parking spaces and 40,000 square feet of retail. Home goods retailer West Elm opened there in September; Ceremony Coffee Roasters, CorePower Yoga and Honeygrow, a Philadelphia restaurant startup, are expected to open later this year or early next.
Beatty is in talks with other retailers and restaurants, including a quick service-style restaurant by a celebrity chef, to fill the remaining space.
The building is significant, both in its location and size, and could play an important role in showcasing Baltimore as a good place for businesses, said M.J. "Jay" Brodie, a former president of the Baltimore Development Corp.
"Baltimore is a major city — it's either going to continue to develop and expand and grow, or it's going to shrink, because people will leave if they don't see new development," Brodie said.
As Exelon and Constellation move workers to Harbor Point, they are leaving behind a total of 440,000 square feet of space at 750 E. Pratt St. and 111 Market Place.
Real estate experts don't expect the space to stay vacant for long, in part because Pratt Street has an occupancy rate of about 92 percent, the highest in Baltimore's traditional Central Business District, according to tracking by commercial real estate firm JLL.
"Of course there will be some disruption when Exelon moves to Harbor Point, but it's nothing downtown can't handle," said Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc.
The Downtown Partnership's definition of "downtown" spans from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Harbor East and Harbor Point. New construction on the east end has garnered attention, but Fowler said he does not think Harbor Point's growth will detract from the rest of the downtown, which is going through its own transformation with office renovations and conversions to residential units, he said.
What's more, Exelon's move will free up space for other businesses that have been unable to find space in the sought-after Inner Harbor area, said Robert Manekin, a senior vice president at JLL. Manekin predicted that by this time next year 80 percent of the space will be filled again.
"Harbor East and now Harbor Point really did not come at the expense of downtown," he said. "It was a logical progression of an enhanced workplace strategy and working environment that was going to happen somewhere."
Beatty's work at Harbor Point is far from over.
The next building, a 289-unit apartment building with ground-floor retail, is under construction and expected to open in 2018.
Beatty has plans for as many as six more buildings, but the next is likely years away. Before Beatty breaks ground on another building, the developer wants commitment from another corporate tenant, ideally one of Exelon's size.
While Beatty is in talks with potential tenants, it still could be some time before the developer finds the right fit, Greenberg said.
But after seeing Harbor Point's transformation so far, Greenberg is confident in the development's future.
"It's having the sight to see the city as what it can be, not what it is or has been," he said.