Downtown Partnership to office building owners: Convert to apartments
Photo courtesy of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore
The downtown vacancy rate for offices is nearly 18 percent. For apartment complexes? A lot lower. (It's 10 percent if you count newer buildings that are still working to get leased up, according to real estate data firm Delta Associates, and just under 2 percent for the rest of the upscale complexes downtown.)
The Downtown Partnership of Baltimore is trying to convince owners of older office buildings to make the leap from Group A to Group B.
Kirby Fowler, president of the nonprofit group, which runs downtown-improvement programs and markets the area, said downtown has some "aged, obsolete buildings that need new plans." Partnership officials are making the rounds to office owners, lobbying them to think residential and connecting them with developers.
One of the skyscrapers he'd like to see convert to apartments is the "iconic" Bank of America building at 10 Light St., which law firm Miles & Stockbridge plans to exit in 2013 for Transamerica Tower down the street.
"The majority of owners are receptive," Fowler said. "Some are out-of-town owners of properties that don't seem to understand what's going on. ... We've given them the statistics."
Namely, that downtown and environs already have a lot of residents. More than 40,000 people live within a one-mile radius of Pratt and Light streets, the Downtown Partnership says.
The census tract that stretches from Pratt to Franklin streets (south to north) and from President to Paca streets (east to west) -- "the older skyscraper district," Fowler calls it -- was the fastest-growing in the city over the last decade. It jumped from 1,700 residents in 2000 to 4,000 last year, according to a Maryland Department of Planning analysis.
The census tract is number 401, and the Downtown Partnership liked the stat so much that it's trying to make "the 401" a thing. Staff launched a 401 website in an attempt at guerrilla marketing, with photos (like the one above) that aim to show downtown from unusual angles.
"We want people to look at downtown in a different way," Fowler said. "We're in the process of ordering T-shirts and dog leashes and coasters and bumper stickers. We want to get the word out. We'd love for restaurants to buy into it. We've got to draw attention to this fact, because very, very few people know this district is the fastest-growing neighborhood."
Its residents are mostly renters. Considering the difficulties facing the for-sale market, the Downtown Partnership is trying to sell office-building owners on converting to apartments. Staffers aren't only targeting skyscrapers such as 10 Light, but also smaller buildings that could "squeeze in 30 apartments, even 10 apartments," Fowler said.
"The rental market is the high point in the real estate market right now," he added. "I think developers recognize that's where money can be made. It's really hard right now to make money on the office/hotel side, but people should be taking advantage of the residential market."