Downtown apartment project gets city's nod

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Baltimore officials announced plans yesterday for a pricey and posh apartment tower just a block from the Inner Harbor that they say will boost the city's efforts to transform downtown into a place where people not only work, but live.

A $71 million development called Cityscape - with 300 luxury apartments, retail and a 542-space parking garage - beat out two hotel-oriented projects to win a prime city-owned parcel at the northwest corner of Calvert and Lombard streets.

Baltimore Development Corp. President M.J. "Jay" Brodie said investment such as this proves that, against all odds, downtown is becoming an increasingly desirable place to live for young professionals and empty-nesters.

"The idea of downtown as a neighborhood would have been laughed at a few years ago," Brodie said.

"People are seeing options to live in places they wouldn't have thought more than 10 seconds about before."

Cityscape would join downtown properties that, in recent years, have brought hundreds of rental residential units to the once all-business area. Apartments farther north such as the Standard and the Munsey are prospering, and other upscale apartment and condominium projects are in the works.

However, with rent at about $2 per square foot per month, Cityscape will be more expensive than typical downtown living. Its one- and two-bedroom units will range from about 700 to 1,500 square feet - making for monthly rent of as much as $3,000.

Party deck and pool

The development team, led by Mark Sapperstein and the Shelter Group, predict the project's amenities - its balconies, roof-top party deck and swimming pool - as well as its location will make it worth the extra expense.

"If you can live in this building and walk to work and walk to ballgames and the Inner Harbor," it's worth it, Sapperstein said. "Everything leads right to this intersection."

The city has bit by bit been acquiring the various properties within the boundaries of Calvert, Lombard, Mercer and Grant streets, which will be demolished to make way for Cityscape.

The city has spent $5.6 million to buy the buildings and $1.5 million relocating some tenants, including a dentist's office and a beauty salon.

Though the city had the authority to seize the properties through the legal process of eminent domain, Brodie said, that wasn't necessary. The Brookshire Suites hotel, within the boundaries of Cityscape, was not part of the deal and will remain as it is.

The developers have offered the city $6 million for the site and will apply for tax breaks.

Brodie said that, without the development incentive, the property was not economically viable. The Cityscape rents would already be pushing the Baltimore ceiling, he said.

"In Washington, perhaps you'd see those numbers, but this still is Baltimore," he said.

Downtown rentals

Though new downtown rental apartments are springing up consistently, condo development there is more sluggish, Brodie said. Still, Sapperstein is banking on a demand for even more downtown rentals.

"We truly looked at the work force market in the core and just believed apartments would work well," he said.

About nine of the building's 300 units would be reserved for lower-income residents, the developers said.

The Cityscape developers are no strangers to the local real estate scene. Sapperstein is behind Locust Point's Silo Point, the $200 million conversion of a grain elevator into a mixed-use development.

He's also involved in residential projects in Baltimore County.

The Shelter Group has built senior living facilities in Westminster and Glen Burnie.

They hope to begin demolishing buildings on the Calvert Street site by the end of this year or early 2006. They estimate construction will take two years.

Temporary gallery

This month young artists opened a gallery called Currents in part of the Cityscape property. The city gave the artists the space at 30 S. Calvert St. rent-free, as a way to make the vacant side of the block more vibrant.

Though the artists' lease with the city promised them the gallery space for six months or until a developer was chosen for the site, Brodie said yesterday that the artists would not be immediately kicked out.

"They know they're there for at least six months." Brodie said. "When they have to move, we'll look for other places."

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