Two new proposed office projects in Canton and Harbor Point presented to the city Thursday would continue the evolution of Baltimore's Inner Harbor from its industrial past to a work-live-play future.
Corporate Office Properties Trust, the big Columbia-based real estate trust, started seeking city approval for a roughly $1 billion development that would transform 10 acres of east Canton waterfront into a new urban center with five or six office buildings, a hotel, restaurants and shopping, a marina and potentially residences.
Beatty Development Group also presented initial plans to the city's design panel for its fourth building in Harbor Point, a 315,000-square-foot office and hotel complex next to the Morgan Stanley Thames Street Wharf building.
Both projects sustain the eastward march of commercial renewal along the Inner Harbor that started with Harbor East and what was the 1st Mariner Bank tower, now named for insurer CareFirst, and continues with the ongoing development of Harbor Point.
Gesturing to a map of the eastern edge of the city, with new blooms of buildings in Harbor East, Harbor Point, Brewers Hill and Canton, the architect working with COPT called the firm's plans "kind of manifest destiny."
"The building that's the CareFirst building now was maybe out ahead of its time in terms of development … but that was a good thing, because now the marketplace and the city has begun to catch up," said David Manfredi, a principal at Boston-based Elkus Manfredi Architects. "Certainly our adjacency to Canton … leads to the logical conclusion that there is the opportunity to do something urban, mixed-use, with real density and really extend the water's edge, not only in terms of development, but in terms of access."
COPT's plans call for 1.1 million square feet of office buildings, 100,000 square feet of retail and dining space, a 300-room hotel, 350 residential units, 200 marina slips and 100,000-square-feet of development — likely residences and restaurants — on a new pier. The waterfront promenade would be extended. Designs also call for a small green space.
Neither COPT nor Beatty Development said they intend to start building without tenants.
At Harbor Point, Beatty Development is starting to pitch its proposed 135-foot-tall building, to include a roughly 156-room hotel, to tenants, said Jody Clark, the firm's chief operating officer.
Developer Michael Beatty, who helped the Paterakis family create Harbor East, launched his own firm in 2013 to develop Harbor Point. The 20-story Exelon tower is underway there now. The firm also expects to start construction of the 289-unit Point Street Apartments in September.
Wayne H. Lingafelter, president at COPT's development and construction arm, said his firm is "cautiously optimistic" that it might begin infrastructure work at the site about this time next year. He said COPT likely will seek a partnership with the city on some of that work and with other groups for the residential and hotel portions of the project.
COPT is a real estate investment trust that historically has focused on suburban office buildings in the Mid-Atlantic but recently began diversifying with some urban properties. It recently added two downtown office buildings to its portfolio, including the Transamerica tower for $121 million. As of June 30, it owned 179 offices properties with about 18 million square feet of space.
The firm is negotiating with Exxon Mobil, which once owned the Canton site, about undoing restrictions on the deed that currently prevent residential development, Lingafelter said.
The oil company declined to comment on potential changes to the deed restrictions.
Baltimore Development Corp. President William H. Cole IV said the city is supportive of the project, but discussions have not started about specific contributions and it is too early to say what, if anything, the city would be prepared to contribute.
"It's very early," he said. "I'm thrilled to have them and excited to work with them."
Demand for office space could allow one of COPT's proposed buildings and the new one in Harbor Point to rise within five years, though they raise questions for older office buildings in downtown's historic core, said Bob Manekin, managing director of Baltimore's Colliers International offices, who works on office leasing.
He suggested that COPT could have an easier time finding a tenant in the near term than Beatty Development, given expected rents, which he anticipates will be higher in Harbor Point to make up for the expense of constructing on the capped former chromium site. For people coming from I-95, the Canton location also avoids traffic on Boston Street.
"I think long term, you're going to see the areas ultimately develop," he said, citing the 20-some years it took for Harbor East to come into its own as a "live-work-play" community."
COPT's site is part of a larger group of parcels once owned by Edwin F. Hale Sr., who won city approval in 2002 for 1.5 million square feet of office space, as well as residential, retail and hotel buildings and a marina there.
COPT, one of four groups that now own pieces of that site, is asking the city to allow it to increase the density of development allowed on the land still governed by that plan, bringing total development to nearly 2.2 million square feet of office, about 278,000 square feet of retail, 712 residential units, 300 hotel rooms and an additional 100,000 square feet of development on the pier.
Other projects are also in the works.
Merritt Properties, which owns about 2.2 acres there, said this spring it wants to build a parking garage behind its athletic club on Boston Street and an office building in what is now a parking lot on Boston Street. Georgia-based Pollack Shores also is seeking approval for an apartment building.
All the new development would increase the number of required parking spaces in the area by 4,500 for a total of more than 7,000. There are currently about 2,500.
Some parts of the plan remain up for discussion. Under current city regulations, any development on a pier must have uses that relate to the water, planning director Thomas J. Stosur said.
The main road providing access to the site, Clinton Street, is also a truck route serving what remains an industrial port zone just to the south.
Cole said the city would work with the developer on traffic issues.
"We'll work with the developer and all adjacent developers on any and all solutions that we can come up with to help ease traffic issues over there, but we live in a city and I don't believe we should base all of our decisions on traffic," he said. "These are urban areas, so density is generally a good thing."
Members of the Urban Design & Architecture Review Panel did not object to the added development but said they wanted to see traffic studies and understand better how the height of the buildings would affect shadows at nearby parks.
The Evening Sun Newsletter
Get your evening news in your e-mail inbox. Get all the top news and sports from the baltimoresun.com.
The proposed buildings range from small one-story structures to a 400-foot residential tower — about 100 feet taller than the adjacent CareFirst structure. They would stand next to Canton's waterfront park.
Gary Bowden, a UDARP member who lives on the waterfront, said he did not want to see the park's harbor views get blocked by the marina and "rich people's boats."
"I'm concerned about any more marina development in this part of the city, particularly along the public walkway," he said.
Discussion of the public space also dominated discussion of the Harbor Point project, which included changes that reduce the amount park space between the two office buildings and add a traffic circle that extends to the water.
Clark said Beatty Development anticipated the criticism and would look at possible changes.