Work has begun on the major mixed-use development downtown that is to replace the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre with two glassy apartment towers and four floors of shopping, said a spokesman for Owings Mills developer David S. Brown Enterprises LTD .
The garage beneath the theater closed this month and a construction fence now surrounds the property, located at the intersection of Charles and Baltimore streets. Formal demolition could start "any day," said Larry Lichtenauer of Lawrence Howard & Associates.
Current plans call for two towers of 33 and 19 stories each, with a total of 450 apartments on top of four floors of restaurants and shopping, Lichtenauer said. The project also includes a five-story parking garage.
David. S. Brown Enterprises plans to start with the 33-story tower, which includes 268 apartments, he said.
Downtown Partnership President Kirby Fowler said the area has declined as the city's commercial core and "it is a relief to see the project moving forward."
"The Mechanic has stood in the way of the continuing progress," said Fowler, adding that the 1967 building has not aged well and sits with its back to Charles Street. "At some point just because a building was built, doesn't mean it has to stand forever. Mistakes are made sometimes."
The theater closed in 2004. One West Baltimore Street Associates LLC, a partnership that includes the co-owners of Arrow Parking and David S. Brown Enterprises, bought the property for $6 million in 2005.
The first plans presented for the property became embroiled in disputes about the historic value of the 1967 Brutalist structure. In 2008, the Planning Commission voted to deny the the building landmark status, overruling the recommendation of the city's commission for historical and architectural preservation.
One West Baltimore Street Associates LLC filed to demolish the building in 2012, but the historic commission officially disapproved of the move, stalling it for six months. The city issued a demolition permit in March, which would have expired Sept. 13, according to Baltimore Housing spokeswoman Cheron Porter. A second demolition permit was issued in August, she said.