Urban Landscape: New Housing and Offices for Midtown; Henslee Conway Gets a New Name; Attendance Up at Pandora Ice Rink; Janet Marie Smith Honored

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The first block of East Mount Royal Avenue was once home to the movie star Francis X. Bushman, a Baltimore native who played Messala in the 1925 version of Ben-Hur and lived in the penthouse of what is now the Towne Building. The Zell Motor Car Company, a Packard dealership, occupied the building’s first level and advertised with a large sign on the roof.

Now Bushman’s former home at 11 E. Mount Royal Avenue is about to be reborn as part of Baltimore’s next mixed-use development, serving people who want to live and work in midtown, close to the University of Baltimore campus and Penn Station.

Zahlco Development, headed by Yonah Zahler, has acquired the Towne Building at 11 East Mount Royal Avenue and nearby properties at 1 East Mount Royal Avenue and 7 East Preston Street from a longtime owner, the Kaplan family.

The Towne Building

Zahler plans to renovate the Towne Building, which he says is currently about 60 percent occupied, for continued use as 24,000 square feet of offices, with 8,000 square feet of retail or restaurant space at street level.  The estimated cost is $4 million to $5 million.

He plans to demolish a relatively non-descript, three-story building at 1 East Mount Royal Avenue and replace it with a 64-unit apartment building with one retail space and 41 parking spaces.  The cost is $12 million to $15 million, and the estimated completion date is fall of 2018.

The parcel at 7 E. Preston Street, a parking lot, will be reserved for future development.

Baltimore’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation has been reviewing Zahlco’s plans since the properties are part of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere historic district. In November, it approved an application to raze the three-story building. Last week, it gave preliminary approval to designs for the replacement structure. Kann Partners is the architect for the new building and the renovated office building.

Zahler said he expects to start demolition of the three-story office building in February or March and begin building the apartments afterward. He said he is aiming to appeal to young professionals and others who want to live in the Mount Vernon/Midtown area and close to the University of Baltimore and the train station. He also plans to start renovating the Towne Building this year and even wants to put a Zell sign on top of the building.

“We think it’s a great location,” he said. Across the street from the university’s $100 million law center and two blocks from the train station, “it has great visibility.”

The Mount Royal Avenue development is one of several that Zahlco has underway in Baltimore.

The company is building apartments at the southwest corner of Calvert and Read streets, former site of a Baltimore Sun newspaper truck garage and a fire-damaged townhouse.

Zahlco also owns and is renovating the former Congress Hotel at 306 West Franklin Street, now 36 apartments. Like the Towne Building with its connections to Bushman, the Congress housed a wide range of actors and other traveling performers over the years, including Bob Hope, Al Jolson, and the Marx Brothers.

Henslee Conway Real Estate has a new name and website

Henslee Conway Real Estate is now Conway Real Estate.

The company was founded in 2012 by Anne Henslee and Missy Conway. Conway said the name changed because she bought out Henslee’s share of the company as of January 1 and wanted the name to reflect the change. Located at 6301 North Charles Street, Suite 1, the company also has a new website address: www.ConwayRealtors.com.

Conway, who is the broker for Conway Real Estate, said Henslee sold her share of Henslee Conway because she wanted to focus on being a real estate agent. Conway said the split was amicable and Henslee has joined Cummings & Co. She said the 12 other agents who were at Henslee Conway before the change will stay at Conway Real Estate, and the company recently added two more agents, both from Keller Williams.

Conway said she started the business with the goal of creating an independent, locally-owned firm that could work all over the Baltimore area. She said she has found that it’s possible for smaller firms to compete effectively with large franchises because so much of the information that agents need is on the internet.

“There isn’t anything the ‘big box’ companies can do that we can’t do,” she said. “The internet has really leveled the playing field.

Attendance up at Pandora Ice Rink

The Pandora Ice Rink at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor attracted close to 19,000 skaters during the 2016-17 season, which began November 11 and ended January 16, according to the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore. That’s 1,000 more skaters than last year, the partnership reports.

Among the groups that visited the rink this season were Living Classrooms, Towson University, Thomas Johnson Middle School, the Thomas Johnson Special Education Department, and Under Armour.

Janet Marie Smith gets national recognition

Janet Marie Smith

Janet Marie Smith, a stadium design expert who lives in Baltimore and works in Los Angeles, is getting more than frequent flyer miles for her effort.

Smith is one of six people who was named to the SportsBusiness Journal’s list of Champions: Pioneers & Innovators in Sports Business for 2017.

Smith represented the Baltimore Orioles while the team was building Oriole Park at Camden Yards and played a key role in its design and execution. She worked with the Atlanta Braves on the conversion of the 1996 Olympic Stadium to Turner Field and with the Boston Red Sox on the preservation and upgrading of Fenway Park. Since 2012, she has been a senior vice president of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.
Ed Gunts

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