First it was to be apartments, then condominiums and now it looks like a $25 million hotel is in the works for a prime downtown corner.
Developers behind One East Redwood, an elaborate melding of three radically different buildings at South Charles and Redwood streets, say they're adapting their plans to accommodate changing market forces.
"With the condo market softening, the opportunity opened for a hotel," said Crispin Etherington, one of the partners behind Charles Redwood Group LLC. "The hotels we're talking to both want to be in our location."
The project would be the latest in a spate of planned downtown hotels - including the city's own convention center Hilton - that will soon be competing for tourist and convention dollars.
Plans for One East Redwood have been in the works for nearly four years, moving in fits and starts as the developers considered and reconsidered how best to use the high-profile spot in the heart of the central business district just across the street from the old Mechanic Theatre.
A year and a half ago the developers got permission from the city to merge 15, 17 and 19 S. Charles St. At the time, the idea was to build 93 condominiums, joining a surge of residential development downtown.
Before that, the developers intended to move ahead with a 58-unit apartment building.
But now, they say, a 196-room hotel seems like the way to go.
"Look at how the whole area's changed," Etherington said. "But really it could be a condo or apartments or a hotel or an office - any service use because it's such a great location."
Etherington recently brought his new plans before Baltimore's Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel. Because the board granted the project preliminary approval, the developer hopes to be able to begin construction this year.
Architect Walter Schamu of Schamu Machowski Greco told the panel how the plan would combine the historic building at 15 S. Charles St. with a modern building that would rise beside and then wrap over it.
The five-story, red-brick corner building, a former dry goods warehouse, was constructed just after the Great Fire of 1904 by the same architect who designed the Mitchell Courthouse.
The plan would preserve the whole building, not just the facade. The other two buildings, which are not historic, would be demolished.
"We do as much as we can to glorify the corner building," Schamu said. "We polish and really emboss this corner, then we go into the new architecture."
Aside from some retail on the ground floor, the buildings are vacant.
Hotels are showing more interest in the central business district than they did four years ago, said Kirby Fowler, who is president of the Downtown Partnership.
Fowler suspects the industry is anticipating overflow business from Baltimore's under-construction convention center hotel. City leaders hope that the publicly financed $301 million Hilton, expected to open in the summer of 2008, will lure more convention business.
In addition to the Hilton, the hotel at Redwood and Charles - Etherington declined to name the brands he is negotiating with - is just one of a few planned or under construction downtown.
A 'hot item'
In fact, Fowler said, Downtown Partnership has begun calling Redwood Street "Hotel Row."
However, Fowler does not fear downtown is on the verge of becoming over-hoteled. "Right now hotels seem to be the hot item downtown," he said.
A Red Roof Inn is planned for Saratoga Street and Park Avenue, an extended stay hotel is in the works for Charles and Fayette streets, and at the intersection of Calvert and Redwood streets hotels are rising on two corners - another extended-stay establishment and a boutique inn called Hotel Indigo.
"These are all saving historic properties. too," Fowler said. "With reports of some downtown historic properties jeopardized, it's nice to see many other projects downtown where historic properties are being rejuvenated."