Apartments being built in 1870s office building

A Baltimore developer plans to begin Friday the process of turning a long-vacant Charles Street office building into apartments.

Savannah Development Corp. plans to construct 36 apartments in the building at 300 N. Charles St., known mostly by the Kinko's copy store on its first floor.


It is one of several apartment projects planned downtown, where the city has been promoting housing as a means to bring more people, and dollars, to the central business district after office hours.

"It's a great location. You can walk to anything from there," said BettyJean Murphy, president of Savannah, a small development company that specializes in affordable housing and restoration projects. Murphy said she has been trying for years to construct apartments in the 1870s-era building - which was once a YMCA.


The apartments, one- and two-bedroom units ranging in price from $750 to $1,325 a month, will have 9-foot windows and wood floors. Because the ceilings are between 14 feet and 18 feet, all the units will contain lofts, according to plans from architects Cho Benn Holback & Associates. The exterior of the red brick and stone building will be restored.

Demolition has been completed inside the five-story building, and construction is ready to begin. Apartments should be available by October.

The Kinko's copy store plans to stay on the first floor, where there is room for two more merchants.

To help pay for the $7.6 million project, the city has contributed $1.1 million to pay for acquisition of the property, according to Sally Stark, Savannah's development manager. Construction is being financed through the Baltimore Community Development Financing Corp., a city-backed loan agency. Savannah also plans to tap federal and state historic tax credits, which it will sell to raise equity for the project.

The Savannah project joins several other projects that are expected to add about 1,000 residential units downtown in the next two years, according to the Downtown Partnership, which promotes the central business district. Last year, 157 units were added.

The city has been seeking to identify old, small and outdated buildings that are no longer in demand as offices for use as housing. Those that developers have chosen to recycle into apartments target college students and young professionals from outside the city who want to walk to school and work.

Michele L. Whelley, president of the Downtown Partnership, said a housing study is under way to determine the depth of the demand for rental apartments and the appeal of other housing. There are about 6,000 units downtown.

But because few apartments are close to the central business district, Savannah's building is significant, Whelley said.


"One, this puts a building back into use, and two, it begins to establish Charles Street as a real neighborhood for residential as well as business."

The building is across Saratoga Street from the 400-unit Charles Tower apartments owned by Southern Management Co., which plans a $3 million overhaul of neighboring Charles Plaza to include a grocery store and other small shops that would appeal to residents.

Other projects planned around downtown in coming years include Southern Management's Atrium on Howard Street (173 units), Southern Management's Stanbalt Building on St. Paul Place (202 units), Bank of America's Centerpoint on Howard Street (334 units), Blair & McDaniels LLC's St. James Place on Howard Street (73 units), Struever Brothers Eccles & Rouse's Congress Hotel on Franklin Street (36 units), Struever's Munsey Building on Calvert Street (150 units) and Leo D'Aleo's project on Saratoga Street (77 units).