SCHOOL WILL HOUSE APARTMENTS

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Baltimore's former Highlandtown Middle School is targeted for conversion to a $30 million apartment and retail project called The Patterson, under a plan proposed by Focus Development of Baltimore and accepted by the city.

Baltimore housing commissioner Paul T. Graziano announced this week that Focus has been selected over two other groups that expressed interest in recycling the 1934 school at 101 S. Ellwood Ave., in the Baltimore-Linwood neighborhood.

Focus, headed by Shaffin Jetha and Rick Diehl, proposed to convert the vacant public school by 2012 to 120 to 150 market-rate apartments plus about 1,500 square feet of retail space, 2,000 square feet of "interior meeting space" and 110 to 140 indoor parking spaces.

Focus's previous Baltimore projects include the Cathedral Court apartments at Cathedral and Read streets and the Hampton Inn and Suites at Redwood and Calvert streets. Cho Benn Holback + Associates is the team's architect, and Southway Builders is the general contractor.

"This is an exciting project that will take a long-standing large vacant structure and transform it into a private enterprise that will provide housing, retail opportunities and generate taxes that will enhance the community," Graziano said.

The six-story, 258,000-square-foot building occupies a full city block on the east side of Patterson Park. Declared surplus by the city school system in 2005, it is considered a rare local example of Art Moderne architecture, with valuable murals and many of the original fixtures still intact. The housing department sought redevelopment proposals last May.

The selected developers have been given a 180-day Exclusive Negotiating Privilege to finalize their plans and line up financing. They say the project is not contingent on city funding assistance, but they will seek tax credits for historic preservation and will adhere to federal guidelines for recycling old buildings.

Jetha said the project will be designed to attract middle-class executives, health care professionals and others who want to live in the city but can't afford the "exorbitant" rents charged for apartments on Baltimore's harbor front. He said monthly rents at The Patterson likely would range from about $1,000 to $1,200 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,200 to $1,500 for a two-bedroom apartment.

One of the other bidders was a team that included television personality and Baltimore native Montel Williams. The third bidder was Winn Development, headed by Cheryl Stupin and Lawrence Curtis. All three teams proposed projects with more than 120 residences.

Focus's proposal was rated best by a seven-member city review panel, made up of representatives from the housing and planning departments and by community representatives who saw presentations of all three proposals.

Jetha said Focus pursued the project because it's in a "great location," architecturally distinctive and consistent with what the company has done since it was founded 10 years ago.

"We like adaptive reuse," he said. "This is a big building in the city. It gives us an opportunity to ... make a positive impact on the neighborhood."

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