Work will begin next year on a glassy pavilion to house shops and restaurants on a prominent block in downtown Baltimore near the Inner Harbor.
The unit block of East Pratt Street between Light and Charles streets features an underused strip of land in front of the Transamerica building, the city’s tallest office tower.
“The site is one of the most important intersections in the city of Baltimore,” Tom Kelley, director of design for COPT, told the city’s Urban Design and Architectural Advisory Panel during the board’s first look at possible designs of the new building that it must approve.
COPT, a Columbia-based real estate investment trust, acquired the Transamerica tower for $121 million in 2015.
“The site plays a crucial role in the urban fabric of downtown,” Kelley said as he outlined plans for the two-story, 30,000-square-foot structure facing Pratt Street and stretching from Light to Charles streets.
COPT officials said they are considering many different types of restaurants and shops for the property, but revealed no names of potential tenants.
The design of the pavilion allows for some outdoor seating behind the building and on the second floor under a covered terrace.
The developer has agreed to buy the property at 10 S. Pratt Street for $1.525 million from the city, which had requested bidders last year for the site after COPT made an unsolicited bid for it.
“The city was looking for proposals that aligned with the Pratt Street Redevelopment Plan to improve the pedestrian experience and activate underutilized city-owned parcels,” said Susan Yum, spokeswoman for the Baltimore Development Corp., which requested the proposals. “COPT, the neighboring property owner, proposed a development that met that criteria.”
The Pratt Street Redevelopment Plan is a larger effort to make Pratt Street more pedestrian friendly and dynamic. The Baltimore Development Corp. and the Downtown Partnership put together the plan adopted by the city in 2008, and the Pratt-Light corner has been used for various events since, including a weekly farmer’s market and a Light City festival display.
The plan has changed the zoning along the corridor to allow new buildings and bump outs from existing Pratt Street buildings. Other retail projects have been completed a couple of blocks east, featuring Shake Shack, and across Pratt Street from the Transamerica block with Kona Grill.
Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership, said the plan for the Transamerica block takes care of another big piece of the street. He called it “ground zero for our Pratt Street master plan,” and was glad the project is underway.
He noted COPT also will improve landscaping at another building in the corridor, 250 W. Pratt. And others near the Pratt Street block are considering bump-out retail structures in front of their buildings.
When the Transamerica building was erected in the early 1970s, architectural trends featured buildings set back from roadways with large plazas, but the design, Fowler said, is no longer a modern look for cities that want to seem active and lively.
“A true urban experience has more density,” he said.
“That plan for the block will create life there,” Fowler said. “We want more uses in these spaces. We don’t want to give up all the open space, but we have that in the Inner Harbor and in the plazas surrounding so it’s okay to take advantage of this space.”
As the city has pushed for such redevelopment along Pratt Street, it’s also added stormwater management systems and bike and bus lanes.
COPT’s Kelley said the company didn’t buy the office building intending to build anything in front. But after consideration officials decided they wanted to provide more retail options for tenants of the office building and for residents who live downtown or are considering one of the new apartment buildings under construction.
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COPT expects to purchase the property and begin construction next year. The retail project is expected to take 18 months to complete. It’s being designed by BCT Architects.