Friday, November 20, 2015

Rotunda Sneak Preview

On a dark and foggy night it may be hard to squeeze the bright aspects of any project, even one that has shown as much resilience as the Rotunda project by Hekemian Development. Acquired in 2005, fought by some in the community, fully designed as a 200,000 sf retail, 414 condominiums, rentals and town home project including a 22 story tower in 2007, only to be  scrapped in the last minute due to the Great Recession, the now $90 million plus project has finally risen as 379 apartments with 130,000 sf of retail and a over 1000 space parking garage slated to open for leasing after the holidays in early 2016.
Rotunda, the preserved old structure

"I like the project better this way" says the Hekemian project manager about the value engineered project. He is confident that he won't have trouble to find tenants for the units ranging from efficiencies to 2 BR units. "Its hard to find those empty nesters", he confides about an age group that many planners say should fuel the trend back to the city. Hekemian Vice President Chris Bell is showing his project to outsiders for the very first time, he says, when he and his design team lead a group of ULI guests through the complex dubbed the Icon. The project architect is Design Collective of Baltimore (they did also preformed the landscape architecture services), the interior designer the Hartmann Design Group of Rockville, the contractor is Bozzutto Construction.

Even beyond the cost of the original acquisition and for designing the whole thing twice, the project has a lot of special expenses such as 40' of fill to achieve a level surface relative to 40th street, a 1000 car parking garage that was constructed up front to allow the historic Rotunda building to remain open as offices throughout construction on the large lot that used to be the surface parking lot for the old interior mall Rotunda complex. These "sunken" costs required to design the apartments as lean as possible. The no frills facades are more a reference to the local preferences obtained through extensive community outreach than cost savings, but the through wall heat pump HVAC units throughout are clearly a VE measure and so are the pretty spartan unit interiors with solid vinyl wood imitation in the living room and the obligatory beige carpets in the bedrooms.
Rents are expected to fall slightly north of the $2 per squarefoot (monthly) mark with the more expensive units reaching about $2.40. This is lower than the $3 threshold that the Baltimore rental market has passed in select areas. While Hampden has transformed from a working class community to a place with hipsters there is no good gauge what the market will allow in this location when it comes to large scale development.
As with the Fitzgerald, the Union Wharf and the 520 Park apartments, most of the costlier efforts are going into sprucing up the common areas and the amenities. (article continued below the photos)
rendering of the entire complex looking southeast

Site plan

Tenant plan

Hartmann Design Group lobby rendering

DCI rendering of the central plaza
the six levels of apartments over the tall level of retail 

Hekemian representatives (Chris Bell, foreground) explain the project standing in the partially completed lobby 

Typical hallway 

Typical kitchen in a 2 BR unit

The old power plant building in the fog, It will become a restaurant

the Italian sales kiosks in the central plaza
 Certainly $450,000 worth of imported Italian cast iron structures that look like Florentine news stands placed on the central plaza to give the square some flair belong into that category and so do the carefully selected materials that will grace the lobby and gathering spaces.

With all the apartment construction still underway in the central parts of the city, one has to hope that Baltimore will finally not only gain millenials and artists as new residents while loosing an equal number of middle class families but that the city will really turn the corner and actually grow by at least the 10,000 households the Mayor had given as her target.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

2013 Baltimore SUN article of groundbreaking event and community involvement
2007 Baltimore Magazine about the Rotunda as urban renewal

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