A Baltimore County developer has assembled three blocks of industrial buildings, empty lots and homes in the Sharp-Leadenhall neighborhood, with plans to build a $250 million project with apartments, offices and stores between Federal Hill and M&T; Bank Stadium.
The proposed Stadium Square project aims to revitalize three key blocks just west of Cross Street Market and advance the economic investment occurring elsewhere on the South Baltimore peninsula, said the developer, Caves Valley Partners.
"We're big fans of South Baltimore and all the things it has to offer," said Arsh Mirmiran, a partner at the Towson-based development firm. "It basically started out as what other sites are there here that we could potentially develop something with some scale and try to continue the improvement of the area."
Tuesday's announcement came as Caves Valley nears the purchase of a patchwork of different properties, roughly bordered by Cross Street to the north, Race and Leadenhall streets and the train tracks to the south. The sites include the Hilgartner Natural Stone Company on Cross Street, the Baltimore Tool Works plant that closed in 2009, the ABC Box Co. and a lot owned by the city at 123 W. Cross Street.
The developer is proposing to demolish the commercial buildings and replace them with several hundred apartments, 300,000 square feet of offices, 60,000 to 70,000-square feet of retail, and close to 2,000 parking spaces.
Stadium Square would be a bigger move into the city for Caves Valley Partners, which developed 1111 Light Street, a mixed-used project of 93 residential units, 24,000 square feet of office and 6,000 square feet of retail nearby in Federal Hill, and Riverside Wharf, a retail and medical office building on Key Highway.
The firm also developed Towson City Center, a 12-story, office and retail tower in Towson and is planning the $350 million grocery-anchored Towson Row.
City officials welcomed the project, including Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake, who said in Caves Valley's announcement that it could help reach her administration's goal of attracting 10,000 families to the city.
Mirmiran said the company likely would seek to partner with the city for infrastructure improvements, perhaps seeking some form of tax incentives.
District 11 City Councilman Bill Cole, who represents the area, called the successful site assembly in a dense urban area "a bit miraculous."
"It's wonderful to see this level of investment in an area that really needs it," said Cole, adding he has not spoken to Caves Valley about specific plans.
Hanover Street has long served as the border separating Federal Hill from the Sharp Leadenhall community, a mix of residential homes and properties with commercial or industrial use.
The construction of the stadiums helped attract some small scale rehabilitation of rowhomes, but pockets of distress remain, even as interest heats up with the addition of the Horseshoe casino farther south on Russell Street. Caves Valley is a partner in the casino.
The proposal didn't come as a surprise to Betty Bland-Thomas, president of the South Baltimore Partnership, who lives across from the proposed development.
She said she was not familiar with the plans, but she has voiced concerns in the past about displacement due to rising home prices in the area.
"I don't think the majority of us would object as long as it's done in good taste and we can approve the plans," she said. "I definitely welcome more information."
The developer met with some community leaders Monday night to preview Tuesday's announcement. The company also said it plans to build a new community center on part of the parking lot of the nearly 150-year-old Leadenhall Baptist Church.
"This project recognizes the value of our community and the history of our neighborhood," the Rev. Dr. Alvin Gwynn Jr., pastor of Leadenhall Baptist, said in the announcement. "It creates opportunities for employment and a good living for our residents."
Caves Valley estimated that the project would create between 800 and 1,000 jobs during construction and about 1,200 full-time jobs in a completed, fully leased development.
The first phase, expected to cost between $80 million and $90 million, will focus on the part of the site closest to Cross Street market, Mirmiran said. The company is reviewing ideas from three different architectural firms, and hopes to go to the Planning Department with a clearer vision of the project by the end of the summer or early fall, he said. About 300 residential units would be included as part of the first phase, he said.
Mirmiran said he envisions buildings of roughly five or six stories at the northern end of the site, making way for taller structures in the eight- to 12-story range toward the train tracks. The goal is for development that matches the style of the neighborhood, similar to the Bond Street Wharf building in Fells Point, which was completed in 2002, he said.
"People look at that thing and they're not sure if it's been there for 200 years or 15 years," he said. "That type of project that fits into the existing fabric is what we generally try to do."
Construction could start by the fall of 2015, Mirmiran said. The company also wants to overhaul the neighborhood's infrastructure, improving the streetscape and improving broadband access in the hopes of appealing to tech companies.
Former Baltimore Tool Works owner Harry "Downie" McCarty, who sold the business in 2009, said he liked Caves' vision and expects to close on the sale of his property by the end of the month. The family's business had been in the neighborhood since 1925, and he said he had considered developing the property into apartments himself.
"I felt some obligation to see that something nice happened, not just … a parking lot," he said. "I would love to see an economic shot in the arm."
Kurt Hadaway, who owns of John's Auto Service less than a block away on West Street, welcomed the project.
"A lot of people don't walk down here at nighttime. It would be a great improvement if it does happen," he said. "If it starts to happen, then I'll put [my property] up for sale."