REDWOOD REDUX? Tower's developers alter plans to ease neighbors' concerns


Trying to smooth over differences with neighboring businesses, the developers of the proposed Baltimore Financial

Centre are offering to amend their plans to close a portion of Redwood Street in downtown Baltimore.

Charles/Redwood Limited Partnership, the development team that wants to build a 32-story office tower at the corner of Redwood and Charles streets, is offering to narrow the project by 10 feet. Instead of taking two lanes of Redwood as the developers had asked to do, the project would take one lane.

Currently, Redwood is a five-lane street between Light and Charles streets. Two lanes of Redwood are used for eastbound traffic, one for westbound traffic and two for parking. The developers had wanted to eliminate the parking lanes during peak traffic hours, but retain three traffic lanes.

The Baltimore City Planning Commission in November directed the developers to try to work out an agreement with neighbors who opposed taking the two lanes.

Ira Cooke, the lawyer representing some of the neighbors, said his clients want more details about the changes before accepting them. "It's under active study," he said. "We want to see more extensive renderings of the building."

Cooke said he hoped to set up a meeting with his clients and the developers but could not say when it would take place.

The tenants and owners of buildings in the area had complained that reducing the width of Redwood Street would create traffic jams and make it difficult for service trucks to make deliveries. Currently, that section of Redwood frequently is used by service trucks that illegally double-park when conducting business.

And, although Attman likely would have to pay the city something for taking part of Redwood, Cooke had said his clients were opposed to the city selling a portion of the street as a matter of principle.

But the developers argued that it is not unusual for the city to close streets and alleys for building projects. As long ago as late 1940s, the Baltimore Sun Co. received approval to close Franklin Street between Calvert Street and Guilford Avenue. More recently, streets were closed or narrowed in order to accommodate the Signet Bank Tower, the Gallery, the Fishmarket and the Brokerage and Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The benefits of the Redwood project outweigh the inconveniences that would arise from narrowing Redwood Street, the developers said. They said the three buildings currently on the site are not consistent with the current development in the area and underutilize the potential for the site. The $90 million office tower would generate about $2 million more in city property taxes each year than do the three buildings on the site.

Once leased, the new building would employ between 1,500 and 2,500 workers and attract business downtown, the developers said. They also said that design of the Baltimore Financial Centre, with its arcade, would enhance pedestrian traffic in the area.

Developer Leonard Attman has been working to see the proposed 430,000-square-foot office tower become a reality for the past five years.

Attman, who has built residential, multi-family and strip shopping center developments in the suburbs, bought a building at 19 S. Charles St. intending to locate his corporate offices there. But as he was preparing to move into the building, the owner of 17 S. Charles approached him about buying that property.

Attman, and his long-time partners Albert Kishter and Lowell Glazer, bought 17 S. Charles St. and soon thereafter acquired 15 Charles St. and the Hansa Haus located across the street at the northeast corner of Charles and Redwood streets. Although all of the buildings have tenants, Attman describes them as "under-utilized."

The developers originally planned to tear down the three buildings on the south side of Redwood Street and build an office tower with an atrium spanning its length. The developers hired RTKL Associates, a local architecture firm, to design the project.

One of the restrictions placed upon the design was a height limitation on 19 S. Charles St. that protected the views of the First Maryland Building next door. That restriction meant the developers would have to look to expand north rather than south in order to create the larger floor plates they wanted.

The design RTKL presented placed the building in the middle of Redwood Street and rerouted traffic around it. That plan, however, failed to meet the approval of Charles Center Inner Harbor Development, the city's development arm.

Attman changed architects twice, the last time in 1989 when he hired Ayers Saint Gross. Architects Adam Gross and David Dymecki came up with a new plan. It called for coverting two lanes of Redwood Street into a pedestrian arcade over which the building would be constructed.

Such a design would have given the floors above the arcade about 20,000 square feet -- the minimum the developers believed would be required to attract major tenants. It also would spare the Hansa Haus, which Attman at one time had considered enclosing in an arcade.

Adam Gross said that by scaling 10 feet from the project, it may become more difficult to attract tenants and financing for the project. Architecturally, the cuts will not be significant, he said.

While Attman says that he isn't in a hurry to develop the project, he clearly would like to get the plans back on track. Ultimately, the project will have to be approved by City Council.

"The administration needs to understand what is better, three blighted buildings that won't be of economic use or to try to be progressive like I think the administration really is and move forward," Attman said.


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