Site bought for skyscraper

The Baltimore Sun

A Philadelphia developer planning to build what could become Baltimore's tallest skyscraper completed its purchase yesterday of one of the last undeveloped parcels along the Inner Harbor, site of the proposed $300 million tower of luxury condominiums and a boutique hotel atop street-level shops.

Developer ARC Wheeler closed the deal on the 2-acre site, once home to a McCormick & Co. spice plant and now a parking lot, from seller Central Parking Corp., said attorney Jon Laria, whose firm Ballard Spahr represents the developer of the project.

Work has been delayed by a later-than-expected sale. The developer, a joint venture of Clifton, N.J.-based ARC Properties Inc. and Philadelphia-based Wheeler Brothers Holdings LLC, had hoped to close on the property last spring and start construction over the summer on the project, tentatively dubbed 10 Inner Harbor. The building had been slated for completion by 2009. Laria said yesterday that the company now expects to begin site work the middle of next year for completion in 2010.

"We really want to communicate to everybody that ARC Wheeler has tremendous faith in Baltimore and the market, and we would not have closed on the site if we didn't believe that we could build a first-rate signature project on what is, we think, the best site in Baltimore," Laria said. He declined to reveal the purchase price. Central Parking Corp. could not be reached for comment.

Baltimore's design panel in February approved the concept of a glass skyscraper that would rise 59 stories and 717 feet on Light Street between the Hyatt Regency and InterContinental Harbor Court hotel.

Since ARC Wheeler announced its plans, other developers have unveiled proposals for mixed-use buildings that could rival the 10 Inner Harbor project in height. Potomac developer Richard W. Naing proposes two 60-story condo and apartment high-rises in the Guilford Avenue corridor downtown. And in Westport, Baltimore developer Patrick Turner envisions creating a second downtown along the shores of the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River, where he hopes to develop a $1.4 billion community with 2,000 homes, shops, offices and a hotel anchored by a 65-story skyscraper.

Other new high-profile, mixed-use projects in the works include a condominium tower under construction at 414 Water St. by the Bush Cos. and a 34-story tower planned by the Cordish Co. that would rise atop a Metro stop at Market Place.

In July, Urban America LP, a New York-based real estate private equity firm, and Baltimore developer Doracon LLC acquired the former site of the News American newspaper at 300 E. Pratt St. for $28 million. The developers plan a 50-story condominium and hotel skyscraper for the site.

The ARC Wheeler project should be well-positioned because of its location and its development team, commercial real estate experts said. As designer of the project, ARC Wheeler has chosen prominent New York firm Robert A.M. Stern Architects, whose projects include Disney's BoardWalk, a throwback to an early 20th-century seaside village in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., and hotels at Tokyo Disney Resort and Paris Disneyland.

"This is arguably one of the most significant waterfront sites left on the Inner Harbor," said Jeff Pacy, an associate with Preston Partners Inc., a commercial real estate services firm that represented ARC Wheeler in the sale. "There's no better location for a project of this size and magnitude."

Plans presented in February to the city's Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel showed a 1.3 million-square-foot building with 285 luxury and loft condominiums with high ceilings, large expanses of clear glass, balconies and roof terraces enclosed by clear glass railings.

Under the approved concept, the first eight floors of the tower would contain a 192-room boutique hotel. The base would include 74,600 square feet of ground-level and second-floor shops, with a restaurant, possibly a gourmet grocer and about 800 above-grade parking spaces.

Although the panel has approved the concept, Laria said the developer needs to go back to get approval for the design and then win a final OK from the city's Planning Commission. After the nine-story McCormick building was razed in 1989, the city agreed to allow a taller building on the site if it met other standards, including one that restricts a building's height based on the area of its base.

Kirby Fowler, president of Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc., said his group continues to encourage mixed-use projects downtown, even as the housing market has slowed.

"There is demand for all these types of uses; it's just how you piece them together," Fowler said. "With regard to retail, it seems more and more national retailers are starting to take notice of Baltimore.

"As for residential, it's a matter of pricing," he said. "The more moderately priced condos seem to be doing well."

Laria said ARC Wheeler isn't worried. It thinks that the project would be distinct enough from other condos to attract buyers. "Our market studies indicate there's tremendous interest," he said. "This is a very different product."

Sun reporter Jamie Smith Hopkins contributed to this article.

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