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Canton site targeted by builder


Taking advantage of a good economy and a new affinity for old urban space, a local builder plans to develop one of the last large vacant strips of city waterfront with warehouse-style offices, shops and a pier of townhouses.

Timonium-based Cignal Corp. and unnamed partners in 2301 Boston St. LLC presented a city panel yesterday with a $40 million project that could break ground in four to six months, provided tenants are found. It would rise from a 3-acre parcel off Canton's Boston Street that companies have failed to develop at least twice since the late 1980s.

"There's opportunity and need here," said Joseph V. Maranto, a principal at Cignal.

Maranto said he has stuck mostly to suburban homebuilding and is relatively unknown in the city. But he said he was attracted by improved conditions downtown and in Canton since the last attempts to develop the land at the corner of Aliceanna and Boston streets, now used mainly for parking.

An early 1990s recession squashed plans for housing by entities associated with Manekin Corp. and Gemini Realty, which bought the land in 1997. Gemini is still listed in state records as the owner.

Sources said there's a contract of sale between the developer and Selvin Passen, Gemini's principal and the managing partner for Lighthouse Landing, the neighboring Boston Street residential and retail project.

Brenda Desjardins of New Home Marketing Services, a development consultant, said it's good timing and a good piece of land that's already surrounded by residential and commercial development.

"There's a high level of activity overall downtown," she said. "People are confident about what's happening in the city, and there's a high level of interest from retailers, other commercial users and residents."

Canton has also become a hot neighborhood, with businesses and residents filling space in such developments as American Can Co. and Tindeco Wharf, Maranto said. While only housing has been proposed for his site in the past, he said the office and retail components were added to his project to make it denser and economically feasible on an expensive piece of property.

Maranto's group made its presentation to city's Design Advisory Panel yesterday and will make another next month.

The plan calls for 200,000 square feet of offices, 60,000 square feet of street-level retail shops and a 550-space parking garage. The group also plans to construct 19 townhomes on an existing pier that would be extended.

The project's architect, Robert C. Northfield of Development Design Group Inc., said the firm was aiming to design buildings that blend into the community.

That means matching the brick and finishes of the old warehouses that line the waterfront for the office building and using features of the city's turn-of-the-century rowhouses for the pier homes.

The developers expect the four stories of offices to pick up on the city's Digital Harbor theme and lure high-tech companies. The retail aspect would be a mix of storefronts that serve both the businesses in the building and the surrounding community.

The public would have access to a promenade along the water and the two stories of parking at night and on the weekends. The project now calls for the project to split in the middle, creating two office buildings joined at the bottom, in an attempt to preserve some of the neighbors' view.

"We avoided the tower concept," said Northfield. "We're trying to be a good neighbor."

Further meetings with neighborhood groups are planned, as are parking and traffic studies.

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