Downtown mixed-use complex advances

A long-discussed plan to bring condominiums, a hotel and an arts theater to downtown Annapolis is moving forward now that the city council has voted to help finance a parking garage for the $200 million complex.

The Park Place project - expected to be the largest in the foreseeable future for a city that is almost built to capacity - gained city approval three years ago but has been on hold as developer Jerome J. Parks has struggled to put together financing.


Parks found a major investor last month, and last week's council vote clears the way for major construction.

The first phase of the project, at Taylor Avenue and West Street, will consist of about 120 condominiums, a Westin hotel, two office buildings and a small retail area. The 900-seat arts center is expected to follow. Parks said he expects the first buildings to be completed in late 2006.


"We have our permits, we are under construction and we are excited about it," Parks said. City leaders have called the project the perfect centerpiece for a planned West Street revitalization. The city recently completed a $27 million effort to spruce up the street and replace outdated utility lines.

"It's certainly brought a new energy to ... that part of West Street," Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said of Park Place.

Moyer said the project's mixture of features within walking distance of one another is an example of ideal urban development.

"It's going to be a center in itself," she said.

Under the financing plan - the first of its type proposed in Annapolis - the city would issue up to $25 million in bonds to finance a portion of the 1,400-spot parking garage. It would pay off the debt with city and county taxes collected from the development.

Alderwoman Sheila M. Tolliver was the lone Annapolis official to object to city financing of the project and voted against it in 2001.

"The rest of the taxpayers in the city are going to subsidize this project," she said. "The developer got the property at a bargain price, which led me to believe that he didn't need the additional incentive in order to make the project profitable."

Tolliver voted to give final approval to the financing last week, saying the policy issue had been decided three years ago.


The alderwoman, whose ward adjoins Park Place, said she has no objection to the development plan. "I think the project is wonderful," she said, "and I have always been a supporter of it. I think it's the right kind of project for the space, and Mr. Parks does a nice job."

Parks announced his intentions for Park Place in 1999 and gained city planning approval in 2000. The project seemed ready to proceed when the city council voted to approve financing in 2001, but Parks found himself unexpectedly short of capital.

Last month, Parks announced that the Carlyle Group, a Washington-based investment company with ties to other projects in Anne Arundel County, would be his partner.

Despite the delay, Parks said, public interest in the project has not waned.

"We've developed a major waiting list for the condominiums without really advertising at all," he said.

The Westin chain will build the neighboring hotel, and retail and office tenants will be announced soon, the developer said.


"I think the excitement is the fact that we really will have a mixture of uses," Parks said. "We've really thought this out well, and it will be a very small town center that stands on its own."