Developers tout Commerce Place $100 million tower being built 3 blocks from Inner Harbor.


The developers of Commerce Place, a 30-story tower currently under construction in downtown Baltimore, were hammering away yesterday at what makes their building unique. But it took David Gillece to drive it home.

"Buildings such as this are not being built in the suburbs," said Gillece, who is president of the Baltimore Economic Development Corp. "It's a uniquely urban building."

Underscoring that was the purpose of an elaborate gathering yesterday in the unfinished lobby of Commerce Place. Billed as a briefing on the building's progress, it was also an opportunity for the developers to show off the building's amenities.

Taller and more expensive than most suburban office buildings, the $100 million project is three blocks from the Inner Harbor at the corner of South and Baltimore streets. It is a joint development project of the Harlan Co. Inc., a New York real estate investment banking firm, and Kajima Development Corp., arm of Japan's largest construction company.

Eleven floors and no walls are what amounts to Commerce Place so far. The building is scheduled for completion in May 1992.

In the lobby area, which was draped in black yesterday, Harlan officials showed models of the 30-story tower, a film about its development, and samples of the granite, marble and aluminum materials that will be used for its facade.

Besides plans for a concierge, private parking for VIPs and a hidden service elevator, Commerce Place will boast a courtyard along the southern side of the building. To be called Redwood Court, the space is described in the literature as a landscaped garden where tenants can retreat.

Gillece praised the courtyard as an "urban pocket park," and one that the city would not have to maintain.

As part of its promotional campaign, and because of its amenities, the building is being referred to as "the next step up in Baltimore."

Commerce Place has an anchor tenant -- RTKL Associates, the city's largest architecture firm -- that has leased 100,000 square feet of the 479,000 square feet of office space available. Negotiations are under way to fill the remaining 80 percent.

Leonard Harlan, chairman of the Harlan Co., was on hand yesterday and was confident about the success of the building despite doubts raised because of the slump in the commercial real estate market.

"A lot of cynics said it would never get built," Harlan said. "When we got to the garage, they said they'll stop at the garage. Now that we're at the 11th floor, I'm sure they'll say they'll never put the top on it.

"Let me assure you, we will go to the top. It will get built," he said.

While Commerce Place is close to the Inner Harbor, it is even closer to The Block. That string of bars, sex showcases and peep shows is immediately east of Commerce Place on Baltimore Street.

The Block is often cited as an area the city ultimately wants to redevelop, a prospect that Harlan said he welcomes and expects.

"The Block is disappearing," said Harlan. "We don't see it as an issue at all. Historically, when major structures have been built in areas like The Block, those areas disappear and the whole tenor of the area changes. The Block's life is coming to an end."

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