Monday, June 22, 2015

Another chapter in the the long history of the Congress Hotel

Zahlco, a company based in Pikesville and Toronto has bought the Congress Hotel on 306 West Franklin Street for $3 million, a price that is lower than the renovation cost was 15 years ago. The company plans to spend another million dollars to upgrade the place and increase the rents by 20-30%. The building is currently almost fully occupied except for the commercial and retail spaces on the first floor.
Congress Hotel as seen from the alley across Franklin Street

From a 1999 SUN article:
"Doing the Congress has been a dream of mine for many, many years, and now maybe it will finally come true," he said. "I think that with the city's newfound interest on the west side, [it] will be a showpiece for the area and a catalyst for additional development. All of the studies show there is a pent-up demand for housing" on the west side.
Ted Rouse, a partner of Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse, said he is especially encouraged by other development near the Congress, such as the Gallery Towers apartments at 111 E. Centre St. and the conversion to office space of the former Hochschild Kohn warehouse at Park Avenue and Centre Street.
Rouse said he expects the apartments to attract young urban professionals and others who want to live within walking distance of downtown Baltimore and cultural institutions such as the Peabody Institute.
"We think the neighborhood is improving and there's a renaissance of interest in downtown housing," Rouse said. "This is such a beautiful, historic building. There's a growing recognition that the Charles Street corridor can expand" and "the 500 and 600 blocks of Howard St. can be an anchor for activity."
With a project cost of over $5 million in 2000 the original team sold the property in 2013 for 2.35 million. The sale of $3 million in 2015 shows recent appreciation but a loss for the original rehab team. That is not too surprising if one takes current conditions and compares them with the aspirations Ted Rouse had in 1999. The 500 and 600 block of Howard Street are still in the same condition they were then, even though 521 Park Avenue is a strong indicator for a better future. One would wish that the pitch given in the advertisement for the Congress would be closer to reality:
A beautiful historic landmark in a cosmopolitan neighborhood, The Congress offers luxurious amenities and remarkable conveniences. The Congress is situated near the Seton Hill Market Center and surrounded by prestigious Mt. Vernon communities. Boutiques, theaters, museums, concert halls and first class dining fare are all within a short stroll. A variety of distinct floorplans to choose from, all have been remarkably updated, you'll find everything you need with all the comforts of home and the convenience of downtown living. With its classic architecture and charming atmosphere, The Congress stands in a class of its own.
 As for Winstead Rouse, son of the legendary Jim Rouse, he still believes in the Westside and is currently pursuing a theater coop in the  400 block of Howard Street. As I noted earlier in a separate posting, there is indeed much progress in the area, it is just coming later than anticipated.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

BBJ article
1999 article when renovation was announced

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