Westport looks to line up retail

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore developer Patrick Turner plans to start construction March 1 in an ambitious plan to develop the formerly industrial shores of the Middle Branch, with the first buildings in the $1.4 billion community - including a 65-story, mixed-use skyscraper - to get under way by 2009.

Turner, president of Turner Development Group, has spent several days this week introducing his Westport project to retailers at a major shopping center convention in Las Vegas. Tomorrow, the developer will present a site plan to the city's Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel.

Turner, reached yesterday at the International Council of Shopping Centers convention, said he is nearly finished buying property for the 50-acre project. Plans call for it to include 2,000 apartments, condos and townhouses, 300,000 square feet of shops, 3 million square feet of office and entertainment uses, and two hotels with a total of 500 rooms. Turner plans to settle soon on an estimated $3 million purchase of property owned by trash-hauling company Cockey's Enterprises Inc.

Despite the real estate slowdown that has caused some area developers to scale back or delay condo projects, Turner said the market will turn up by the time the Westport units are ready. Office demand, he said, will grow as a result of federal base realignment adding military and defense-related jobs. "We're talking about residential building coming on line in 2009," Turner said. "In multifamily, we already have people who want to build." A New York developer is interested in building a rental apartment tower next to the Westport light rail stop, he said.

Turner's company is in talks with hotel operators and townhouse builders. And he expects some of the office space to be filled by defense contractors who want to be in a central location near Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Meade.

While at the ICSC convention, Turner said he and brokers from CB Richard Ellis have been meeting with retailers about opening stores and restaurants in the Westport project.

"That's what we're chasing now," said Turner, who said retailers are finally looking seriously at Baltimore City. "People are looking at it real hard. In the past, they would cringe, and now they sit down and take notes."

The project has received site plan review approval from city planning officials. Tomorrow, the city's architecture review panel will assess the site plan from a design standpoint.

Turner said plans he unveiled last year have remained mostly intact, with a few changes. For one thing, the developer had to remove a proposed velodrome, a biking arena that could be used for sports or concerts, and rethink plans to create a beach on the waterfront. The proposed site of the velodrome, a former city park, is in a resource conservation district where construction is prohibited, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers preferred creating additional wetlands rather than a beach, Turner said.

Turner also was unable to save the facade of a former Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. power plant on the site. It is currently being demolished.


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