While many Baltimoreans stayed home and watched football on New Year's Day, a dozen hardy souls spent the day moving into Baltimore's newest apartment complex.
They are the first residents to move into the 125-unit Henderson's Wharf apartment complex since a $9.75 million renovation was launched there last fall.
And although the real estate market is sluggish in general, the new managers say they are pleased with the response they've had since they opened a leasing office in October. They say the converted tobacco warehouse at 1000 Fell St. is already close to 20 percent leased even without a big advertising push and that they expect it to be fully occupied by the fall.
"We continue to be surprised and pleased that the market for rental housing along the waterfront area is very strong, even though most of the news that we hear about the real estate market is very negative," said Richard Holland, president of Richland Realty Group of Atlanta, part of the group that is marketing the apartments.
"This is a very pleasant example of the market not being very weak but in fact being strong for upscale housing in the waterfront area," he said. "We expect the traffic to increase even more in the spring because the building will be complete and those are big rental months. We're hitting the market at just the right time."
General Manager Linda Lowe said the first tenants are a diverse group, ranging from empty-nesters moving in from the suburbs to young professionals relocating from Boston and New York. There are also doctors, nurses and other professionals moving from other parts of town, she said.
"The response has been phenomenal. I think there were people who were keeping their eye on it and waiting to lease as soon as it became available. We've had people calling up and leasing over the phone. It's that unique of a property."
The seven-story building is being renovated by Henderson's Wharf Baltimore Limited Partnership, a joint venture of Richland Realty and Historic Preservation Properties Limited Partnership of Boston, an affiliate of Boston Bay Capital Inc.
The group acquired most of the units in Henderson's Wharf as well as two acres of adjacent waterfront property last summer for $9.25 million from a subsidiary of the International Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, which gained control of the property after a previous developer defaulted on its loan. Twelve units that were already sold by the first developer, Carley Capital Group, were not part of the acquisition. Leasing rates for the apartments range from $605 for an efficiency to more than $2,300 for some of the penthouse units -- making them among the priciest in the city.
As part of the renovation work, the developers upgraded the heating and air-conditioning system and redesigned the lobby and courtyard. They also plan to open a 38-room inn on the building's first level this spring and have contracted with Bunny Dwin's commissary on Fell Street to provide food service. All work inside the building is slated for completion by the end of February.
Mr. Holland attributed the strong interest from renters to the building's waterfront setting and proximity to Fells Point, and to the fact that it will have an inn on the premises. Once the inn opens, he said, apartment residents will have a convenient place for out-of-town guests to stay, and they will also be able to take advantage of room service, maid service, valet service, meeting rooms and other amenities available to the inn's guests. It also has eight furnished corporate suites.
Surber and Barber Architects of Atlanta was the architect for the renovation work. Hardin Construction Co. of Atlanta is the general contractor. The Luesing Group of Atlanta is handling leasing.
To be completed this summer are a $5 million, 258-slip marina and a pool and waterfront promenade.