By Jill Rosen
Originally published May 19, 2006
After years of false starts, construction is to begin this summer on Harbor Point, the long-contaminated former site of a chromium plant and the largest undeveloped tract along the Inner Harbor.
Baltimore's Planning Commission unanimously approved a revised design plan for the sprawling $725 million project yesterday, giving developers the go-ahead to begin building what amounts to a new neighborhood southwest of Fells Point. When complete, it will include nearly 2 million square feet of offices, homes, hotels and retail space.
Getting to this point has taken a dozen years of planning and negotiating, not to mention a prolonged $100 million cleanup.
"We've been waiting with great anticipation for many years for this to start," said Lawrence J. White, development director for Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse, the company developing the site along with John Paterakis Sr.
Eager to break ground, White expects to start construction on the first office building late this summer. Plans call for the second building, containing condominiums, to begin its rise a few months later. Shortly thereafter, another residential component will follow.
"It will be fast," he said. "By next year, all three will be under construction."
Ideally, the developers would have been building already. But the Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies, troubled by the environmental implications of constructing new piers with buildings on top, spent two years scrutinizing the plans.
As the key tenant for the first office building began putting pressure on the developers to start construction, White said they couldn't wait any longer for federal approval. They scratched the pier plan and reworked things so that all of the buildings will now stand entirely on land, though very close to the water - the development's calling card.
"After two years of frustrating conversations with the Army Corps of Engineers, we were not making progress in a timely fashion," White said, adding that the tenants' needs outweighed their desire for the pier design. "It was a huge motivating factor in our decision-making."
The glassy first building, called Thames Street Wharf - it was to have been Thames Pier until the pier construction issue - will be the new Baltimore home for Morgan Stanley & Co., a firm that now leases office space in Fells Point.
The company plans to move into half of the eight-story building and has an option to take over the rest of it.
The initial office and residential construction will be huddled in the southeastern corner of the 27-acre peninsula. Because of the past contamination, residential buildings are permitted on only the easternmost third of the site.
To the west, there are plans for two hotels - a Westin and another brand from the Starwood Hotels group.
All told, Harbor Point is to include:
• Two hotels.
• 815,000 square feet of residential space.
• 640,000 square feet of office space.
• 165,000 square feet of retail space.
• An 11-acre public park and a continuation of the city's waterfront promenade.
• 3,200 parking spaces.
Though Fells Point residents and environmentalists once decried the height and density of the development under the Struever-Paterakis plan, as well as the traffic it would likely bring, no one spoke out against the project during yesterday afternoon's planning meeting.
City business leaders, meanwhile, are glad to see action on the long-vacant site and ecstatic about its economic potential.
Not long ago, the former AlliedSignal chromium plant was among Maryland's worst hazardous waste sites. In June 1999, Allied and its owner, Honeywell International Inc., spent $100 million to raze the plant and cover the contaminated ground with a clay cap.
Before then and since, the peninsula sat idle, playing occasional host to Cirque du Soleil and, for a few years, the city's seasonal ice rink.
"Harbor Point has come a long way since its day as a polluted Superfund site," said Downtown Partnership President Kirby Fowler. "It holds a critical location on the waterfront, and the mix of open space and mixed-use buildings can only enhance an already thriving destination."
Harbor Point is directly south of Harbor East, another Struever-Paterakis project, that has become, with its upscale condo buildings, Whole Foods market and smattering of boutiques, possibly Baltimore's trendiest address.
Together, company officials say, Harbor Point and Harbor East represent a $2 billion investment.