Agora plans to expand two more buildings along Charles Street

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A rendering of Agora’s plans for 1125 N. Charles St.

Agora is growing again.

Two months after it started to renovate the former Hynson, Westcott and Dunning building at 1030 N. Charles St., to provide office space for its staff, the company is planning to expand two more buildings one block away.

Baltimore’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) yesterday voted 9 to 0 to give preliminary approval to Agora’s application to add one floor to its building at 1125 N. Charles St., and three floors to a smaller building it plans to purchase along Lovegrove Alley, in the same block.

When complete, the expansions will give the company room to add 300 more employees, bringing its local workforce to around 1,500. Jim Suttner of Rohrer Studio is the architect.

“As you know from our recent reviews of the project located at 1030 N. Charles St., Agora is in the midst of a significant growth period,” Suttner wrote to the preservation board before the meeting. “We’ve been working concurrently on both projects to accommodate [its] needs.”

Founded in 1978, Agora and its affiliates publish books and newsletters and organize seminars on subjects such as finance, health and travel. It has 12 buildings in Mount Vernon and midtown, and the Lovegrove Alley building will be its 13th.

The project takes advantage of an unusual fact about the five-story structure at 1125 N. Charles St.: When it was designed in the 1960s, it had the capability of supporting nine more floors, but it was never expanded.

The building opened in 1968 as an annex of the Monumental Life Insurance Company, which later moved out. The Monumental Life complex was acquired by Chase Brexton Health Services, which sold the building to Agora in 2016.

Now Agora is taking advantage of the building’s capability of supporting more floors and adding one, giving it six levels over a plaza.

Suttner said it’s not adding more than one floor because, according to city codes, any structure over six stories is defined as a high-rise, and that would require more elevators and other costly changes.

The clever part about Agora’s expansion is that the building on Lovegrove Alley, which dates from 1957, is also part of the Monumental complex and is capable of supporting three more floors. Those three added floors will be connected to floors 4, 5 and 6 in the 1968 building, resulting in larger floorplans that will suit Agora’s staff.

The three-story addition to the 1957 building will have “ribbon” windows on the east wall and balconies on the north end, but it won’t be visible from many vantage points. The new level atop the Charles Street building will have glass walls beneath an overhanging roof, a brim it never had before.

 The addition “gives the building a top,” preservation planner Lauren Schiszik told the commission. “It makes it more finished as a building.”

Agora is recycling the 1957 building rather than replacing it because “this is more cost effective and environmentally responsible than starting from scratch,” Suttner said.

The design drew praise from panel member Larry Gibson, who said he likes to see additions that grow up instead of out. “I wish we saw more of this,” he said.

“Great improvement,” agreed panel member Laura Penza.

Jean Hankey, Agora’s vice president of management and development, said the additions will give the company about 38,000 square feet of new and renovated space.  She said Agora is in the process of buying the 1957 building from Chase Brexton and will move ahead with construction sometime after the Hynson, Westcott and Dunning renovations are complete next year.

Ed Gunts

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