Harbor's east side is alive with construction

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The new offices of Whitman, Requardt and Associates in Fells Point are still surrounded by construction equipment, even though work on the building was completed seven months ago.

The architects and engineers at the firm sit in the middle of what is becoming one of the hottest locations in the city.

Opulent apartments, exclusive restaurants and amenity-filled offices and hotels are in the works, hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of development that is transforming the Inner Harbor's east side and potentially adding thousands of people to the mix.

The area's amenities, along with the water and available parcels, have been luring developers for several years. Construction has largely stayed on course, even if the national economy has not.

Despite the construction cranes, "we love it here," said C. Richard Lortz, Whitman Requardt's managing partner. "Employees go to the restaurants for lunch and sometimes dinner. We're finding a lot of employees are jogging around the Inner Harbor. We're finding that a few employees are seeking homes in the area."

Some projects, such as Lortz's building, have been completed. Other major projects have opened in neighboring Inner Harbor East, including two hotels, an office building and a parking garage developed by H&S; Properties Development Corp., which is also responsible for much of the forthcoming development.

Demand for housing - and available financing - is fueling the building surge. But other buildings are under construction or have recently been announced, including a Four Seasons hotel.

The next project is a $33 million office building, anchored by RTKL Associates Inc. Bond Street Warf is expected to open Oct. 1 on the Fells Point waterfront. The building was designed to look industrial, with its name painted on the side, so it will fit into the traditional waterfront. It replaces an old warehouse burned down for the filming of the movie Avalon.

"The intent was to make sure it blended with the community," said Amy Bonitz, development director in charge of constructing the 212,000-square-foot building, a neighboring public park and a 760-car garage across the street.

RTKL is to occupy a little more than one-fourth of the building, and developers have one other tenant lined up. Bonitz said the number of businesses looking for space has slowed with the economy. That has led some other developers to put off building offices around the city.

The office users in Bond Street Warf will have access to the parking garage across the street during the day, and residents and visitors will be able to use it of an evening. The garage and public park were partly designed to appease neighbors, who feared traffic and a crowded skyline.

To make the garage more appealing to the public, developer Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse Inc. plans to disguise it at street level by wrapping housing around the building on Bond, Thames and Caroline streets. There will be 27 townhouses, starting in the upper $500,000s, and 24 European-style flats above shops, beginning in the low $200,000s, said Matthew Holbrook, a residential development director for Struever.

Holbrook said the company has taken reservations for most of the housing, including a historic house it preserved on Caroline Street.

"This is the heart of Fells Point, and we wanted to avoid putting a garage right up to the property line. That would stamp out life on the street," he said.

In neighboring Inner Harbor East, where three large parking lots remain to be developed, ground is expected to be broken next month for an $80 million phase in a master plan created by H&S.; It will add apartments, parking and street-level shops to the area.

H&S; has built offices for Sylvan Learning Systems Inc. and Fidelity & Guaranty Life Insurance Co., and a Fresh Fields Whole Foods Market is expected to open this month in that building. The developer has also opened two hotels, the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront and the Courtyard by Marriott, in the past year and a half.

The apartments, developed with Bozzuto & Associates Inc., are to rise from a parking lot on Lancaster Street to face the water. Developers are working on the final financing deal for 32 condominiums and 316 rental apartments. Thomas S. Bozzuto, president of the Bozzuto company, said there will be one- to three-bedroom units renting for about $750 to $3,500 a month. Condominiums are to sell for $400,000 to $1 million. He said he was a bit concerned that demand might not match the large number of apartment buildings going up around the city but that the waterfront location will help sell his units.

The Promenade at Inner Harbor East, a nearby apartment building that Buzzoto also manages, is nearly full. "The reason this will be successful is because you will be able to live in this building and be able to walk across the street for a cup of coffee, walk across the street and get groceries, go downstairs to shop," he said. "That's what's missing in the suburbs, and the reason so many younger people and empty-nesters want to move back to the city."

Among the retail establishments expected in that development are three restaurants, including a Lebanese Taverna.

H&S; hopes to begin work on two other parking lots sometime in the coming year. One will support offices, a Homewood Suites extended-stay hotel and an art house movie theater, said Michael S. Beatty, head of H&S.;

The developer is negotiating with North Hollywood, Calif.-based Madstone Theaters. No office tenants have been identified for the 18-story, 350,000-square-foot office tower, and the size might be scaled back.

The second parcel is to house the $100 million Four Seasons hotel, with 200 guest rooms, 25 rental apartments and an undetermined number of condominium units for sale.

Beatty said last week that H&S; has an agreement with the upscale chain to manage the hotel. Financing, often a major hurdle to hotel development, has not been worked out. H&S; plans to put up about $35 million of the $100 million total cost.

In another project, on the former site of the Allied Signal chromium plant, which juts into the harbor from Fells Point, H&S; will team with Struever Bros. to build a hotel, offices and shops. Specifics and a development schedule have not been determined, Beatty said.

"The waterfront is driving development in the city," he said. "And we're close to the CBD [central business district], we're surrounded by neighborhoods, and people want to be in an urban environment. They'll want to be here."

Eventually, Beatty said, Paterakis will move his Fells Point bakery distribution center to East Baltimore Street to make way for more commercial development. The bakery isn't to be moved.

Another developer has announced plans to build apartments and offices at Wolfe and Thames streets but has not released a timetable.

The city, which has supported development of the area, might negotiate more subsidies for the new projects, said M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development arm.

"It's a work in progress," Brodie said of the area.

"Our hope is that there will be more residents, more of a 24-hour neighborhood and more retail in addition to food establishments. We hope to see it all in the next couple of years."

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