Panel approves preliminary design of Exelon's proposed Harbor East headquarters

Arts and CultureArchitectureMorgan Stanley Dean Witter & CompanyMorris A. Mechanic TheatreExelon Corp.

Energy giant Exelon Corp.'s regional headquarters in Harbor Point would rise 23 stories and 350 feet, reshaping Baltimore's skyline with a futuristic glass tower, under a preliminary design approved Thursday by a city advisory panel.

Approval of the "schematic" phase of building design moves the project closer to its planned spring construction start, developer Michael S. Beatty said. Beatty, president of the newly formed Harbor Point Development Group LLC, was asked to return to the Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel with revisions for final approval.

He promised a signature skyscraper that would be part of "building a neighborhood with fantastic architecture that will protect the pedestrian experience."

A revised proposal, unveiled Thursday, was designed, he said, to be "as tall as possible, as elegant as possible and as vertical as possible."

Exelon, which acquired Baltimore-based Constellation Energy Group last year, selected Harbor Point over several other potential downtown sites last February to house its power-selling and renewable-energy businesses. The 27-acre Harbor Point, a former Allied Signal chromium site between Harbor East and Fells Point, is home to financial services firm Morgan Stanley. A total of 3 million square feet of development is planned for the site.

The Exelon tower, part of a $250 million first phase of Harbor Point's development, has three distinct sections: a west tower, a shorter central tower, and a brick-and-glass building with a trading floor, parking garage and street-level retail, part of the 50,000 square feet of shop space that will wrap around the block. A central plaza, a 61/2 -acre waterfront park and two smaller parks will help turn the mostly undeveloped parcel into one of the most desirable sites in the city, Beatty said.

The project's designers enhanced the taller tower's height by adding space at the top for mechanical equipment, said David Manfredi, a principal with Elkus Manfredi Architects.

"This building will sit here for some amount of time on its own, and it needs to be iconic," Manfredi said.

Given the proposed headquarters' function, "I would like for the building to feel 'of energy,' and I don't see that yet," panel member Gary Bowden said.

Panel member Emily Hotaling Eig said she objected to the use of brick in the trading building, saying it calls for "something that says this is a modern power plant. … It's just too looking back, and you want to look forward."

Panel members said they liked the project's added height but wanted to see the glass facades and entrance revised. They also want to see how Exelon's signage might alter the skyscraper's appearance.

The panel also gave partial approval to the size and placement of two 476-unit residential towers and 100,000 square feet of retail space planned to replace downtown's shuttered Morris A. Mechanic Theater at South Charles and West Baltimore streets.

Shalom Baranes Associates, the architect for developer David S. Brown Enterprises Ltd., presented a revised plan with a 31-story tower and second 20-story tower, four floors lower than originally proposed. The panel declined to approve the project's schematic design because the architect has not completed facade design.

The panel gave a mixed blessing to the $100 million Rotunda mall redevelopment, saying some of the design is boring and a missed opportunity. Hekemian & Co.'s $100 million plan includes a five-story building with nearly 400 apartments aimed at empty nesters and young professionals. There's also a level of retail space, a parking garage with 1,100 spaces and a public plaza.

Panelists said Hekemian is missing a chance to use roof for penthouse apartments or public space to take advantage of the view.

"You're so close, but you're not there," Eig said.

But Bowden said the plans were all right, if not as good as they might be.

"They've never been on the edge of greatness, but they've never been awful, either," he said. "Are they so bad that they can't be approved?"

Ultimately, the panel voted 3-0 in favor, but told the developer to touch base to show any changes before the proposal moves on to the city Planning Commission, probably next month. Hekemian hopes to break ground by May, with a completion target in 2015.

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Larry Perl contributed to this article.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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