The city's Housing Authority has received six proposals from downtown office building owners to consolidate more than 400 administrative employees into a central location.
The proposals came in response to a Housing Authority of Baltimore City request this month to lease or purchase a minimum of 100,000 square feet of office space within seven blocks of City Hall, at 100 N. Holliday St.
If one of the lease proposals is accepted, it will more than double the largest downtown office transaction of the past two years.
Among the buildings proposed:
The 23-story One Charles Center, at 100 N. Charles St.; the 11-story Candler Building, at 111 Market Place; the five-story Signet Bank operations center, at 210 Guilford Ave.; and the 18-story Munsey Building, at 7 N. Calvert St.
The Housing Authority's administrative operations now are in the 14-story, city-owned Charles L. Benton Jr. Building at 417 E. Fayette St., and in 31,000 square feet of leased space at 300 Cathedral St.
"We're looking to have certain functions work closer together," said Daniel P. Henson III, commissioner of the city's Department of Housing and Community Development and the Housing Authority's executive director.
"The idea is to move to a single building we control. There's simply not enough room for us in the Benton Building."
The authority, with a budget of $200 million annually, owns and operates 43 public housing developments with 18,052 units scattered around the city.
Eric C. Brown, the authority's deputy executive director, said the agency hopes to complete the consolidation around the end of the year.
The planned relocation of administrative staff comes in response to growth in the agency's internal police department and other administrative divisions, Mr. Henson said.
The authority's decision to consolidate is expected to greatly benefit the city's older office properties, which Mr. Henson specifically targeted because they are less costly to rent.
The so-called Class B office properties have slumped in recent years because of the collapse of the local real estate market and a drop in white-collar employment.
At 22.5 percent, the city's Class B office vacancy rate is one of the highest of any property segment in the metropolitan area, according to statistics compiled by the commercial real estate firm Casey & Associates Inc.
"The idea is to try and take advantage of the down market," Mr. Henson said.
Based on market rates, a Housing Authority lease is likely to cost the city $5 million through the end of the decade.
Andrew J. A. Chriss, a Manekin Corp. senior vice president representing the Munsey Building, said building owner John Paterakis is prepared to invest roughly $5 million to upgrade the building if it wins the competition.
Mr. Paterakis, owner of H&S; Bakery Inc., bought the nearly vacant 178,000-square-foot building last year for $450,000.
Representatives from some of the other buildings that met the authority's requirement and submitted proposals could not be reached for comment.