Oliver T. Carr, Washington's largest downtown developer, proposed today a $170 million office-residential complex in downtown Baltimore. It would be the largest, single private development among the port city's many ambitious urban renewal projects.
In a City Hall press conference, Carr and city officials announced plans to make both the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad's historic Camden Station and an adjoining hulking railroad freight warehouse the centerpieces in a 22-acre complex of office building, condominiums, plazas and retail stores.
The proposal to develop the nearly idle Camden railway yards, owned by the giant Chessie System, is the latest showpiece for a city whose urban renewal program-now nearly 25 years old-has been hailed as one of the nation's most successful.
The Camden site and an adjoining seven acres, which Carr and Chessie hope to buy from the city as part of the project, would be an extension of Baltimore's Inner Harbor, which is the mainstay of its urban renewal program.
A decade ago that old port area contained nothing more than rotting piers and dilapidated warehouses. Now it includes architect I.M. Pei's five-sided World Trade Center tower, Edward Durrell Stone's Maryland Academy of Sciences building as well as parks, boulevards and play areas.
"Baltimore has done something. It is vital," Carr said today. "Every city has its own pace, and Baltimore, like Washington, is now attracting more outside money. It's the right time for a lot of eastern cities. It's the right time for Baltimore."
Despite the superlatives used by city officials and developers at the press conference, at least one official was raising questions about the thrust of the entire redevelopment program.
Baltimore City Council President Walter Orlinsky, a persistent critic of some of the city's renewal and building programs, believes the time is long past when the city should have started dealing with problems like jobs its residents rather than putting up buildings.
"Baltimore has always been an industrial, working-class town. While I'm grateful for every office building job I can get, they are still suburban jobs." Orlinsky said. "There are 830,000 people in Baltimore, most of whom are black and whose basic job opportunities do not lie in buildings like the World Trade Center."
Orlinsky said he is also concerned that the city, in its effort to clear land, has eliminated a lot of small businesses. "But because we weren't eliminating companies that employed 2,000 people, nobody noticed."
As to the Camden project, Orlinsky said that he's "enttused to the extent that it calls for housing," but he wishes it called for more.
Among the urban renewal projects already under way is an $18 million aquarium, which officials with characteristic boosterism describes as the finest to be built between Boston and Miami. A convention center is scheduled for completion in August, and the first convention is already booked. Last week, the city closed the deal for a new $33 million, 500-room luxury Hyatt Regency Hotel.
More than $615 million in private funds have been invested in Baltimore urban renewal projects in the past 20 years.
Unlike the previous projects, built on land purchased and cleared by the city and offered to private developers with the help of government subsidy, the proposed Camden Station development would rise on 14 acres of land owned by the Chessis System. Other than possible historic preservation funds, no use of government funding is planned.
Carr's proposal called for restoration and construction of restaurants and shops in Camden Station, built in the 1850s and now used mainly by about 1,000 passengers who travel each day on Chessie's commuter runs between Washington and Baltimore. A new commuter terminal would be set up at another site in the project.
The adjoining eight-story brick warehouse would be turned into 700 middle-income condominium units and one section of offices. CAPTION: Picture, OLIVER T. CARR . . . "the right time for Baltimore."