The owner of one of the last undeveloped sites at the Inner Harbor is seeking a property tax break from the city to allow it to compete with the developers of four other sites that have proposed or considered building a downtown headquarters for Exelon Corp.
Stephen Gorn, president and chief executive of Questar Properties, has proposed a tower at 414 Light St. that would rise about 35 stories and contain offices for the Chicago-based energy giant.
Exelon has pledged to build a Baltimore headquarters as part of a $7.9 billion buyout of Constellation Energy Group. The deal still must clear regulatory hurdles.
Gorn's proposal to Exelon, one of at least five the company has received, was shown to the Baltimore Development Corp. as part of the tax-subsidy request. The plan calls for nearly 400,000 square feet of office space topped with about 350 apartments, with street-level shops and an above-ground garage.
"It is a mixed-use project of the kind we've always hoped would go on that site," said BDC President, M.J. "Jay" Brodie. The site, once home to the McCormick & Co. spice factory, is now a surface parking lot.
On Thursday, the BDC's board of directors considered Gorn's request for a subsidy known as a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, which is being requested for a project with an estimated price of $264 million.
BDC board members were prepared to make a recommendation to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake after Thursday's meeting, Brodie said. Even if OK'd by the mayor, the subsidy would require City Council approval.
Gorn, a Pikesville-based developer who purchased the property at a foreclosure auction a year ago, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Exelon also has received a proposal from J. Joseph Clarke of J.J. Clarke Enterprises, who would build a 25-story, 400,000-square-foot building at 1 Light St., site of the old Southern Hotel.
Brodie said other sites that have been proposed to the energy company include Baltimore City Community College's Bard Building on Lombard Street and Market Place, which is under contract by The Cordish Cos. for a possible office and residential project; and Harbor Point, a parcel between Harbor East and Fells Point. The owner of a parking lot on the site of the old News American building, at 300 E. Pratt St., might also have submitted a proposal, Brodie said.
Three of the sites — 1 Light St., Harbor Point and the BCCC building — are in state-approved city enterprise zones that offer tax breaks of varying levels over a 10-year period, Brodie said.
Exelon officials say they plan to announce a decision once the Constellation merger is finalized. The company is not revealing details about any of the Baltimore sites it is considering.
A company spokeswoman said Thursday that tax incentives for the developers were not being specifically considered in the decision-making process.
"As with any investment decision, Exelon is being economically prudent in evaluating its real estate options," Judith Rader said. "That means considering the overall cost of occupancy for each property, including base rent, operating expenses and property taxes."
Exelon would maintain its headquarters in Chicago, but the Baltimore office would house its growing power-selling and renewable energy businesses. About 1,500 workers are now based at Constellation's headquarters on East Pratt Street and next door at the Candler Building on Market Place.
The prospect of a major new office building in the central business district — which would be the first built since 2004, when 500 E. Pratt St. was completed — has created excitement in the city's development community. Those who support a new Exelon headquarters in the core downtown area include the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, which wants to reinforce the area around Pratt and Light streets.
Brodie noted Thursday that the BDC's role does not include recommending one site over another. Rather, the agency recommends PILOTs when it is determined that a public incentive is needed.