Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Life sciences buildings scaled back at EBDI

Any future life science buildings at the East Baltimore Development Inc. site in Middle East will be smaller with cheaper leasing options, the master developer of the $1.8 billion project told a city design panel Thursday.

Planners also outlined a new direction for the massive redevelopment that includes a 6-acre park, commercial space and 150 new rental units by mid-2014.

Original plans called for five lab buildings of at least 289,000 square feet each in a world-class biotech park linked to the Johns Hopkins University.

Scott Levitan, senior vice president of Forest City-New East Baltimore Partnership, told the Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel that those plans have been changed.

The biotech site at Washington and Chester streets will be used for new housing units, Levitan said, and a 175-room hotel and health club will be built on another biotech site near Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is building a lab on another site originally intended for a private biotech lab.

Only one biotech building — the $100 million, 278,145-square-foot John G. Rangos Sr. Building has opened at the site so far. That building opened in 2008 and is still not fully leased. Some start-up companies have complained the rent was too high.

“We have realized that [more large buildings] is not what emerging life sciences companies looking to locate in an urban area want,” Levitan said. “We are going to build smaller, less expensive buildings with lower rents. That is what small, emerging biotech startups want and need.”

All of the sites were vacated and razed under eminent domain. So far, 669 houses and buildings have been demolished by EBDI at the 88-acre redevelopment site and another 700 are ready to come down.

Levitan’s comments came as he unveiled details of a new master plan for the problematic redevelopment that so far has cost more than $564 million, $212.6 million in public funds. It is the third EBDI master plan in 10 years.

He told the review panel that his presentation was “not official” but rather a preliminary glimpse at the redesign.

“I am here so you can get a sense of what we’re doing,” Levitan said.

A revised master plan is needed, he said, to adjust the development’s scope.

“The original plan was not transformational enough to inspire a new community,” Levitan explained.

The park to be in the center of the site had been expanded in the new master plan, Levitan said, drawing praise from Gary Bowden, a UDARP member.

“I see a lot of promise in this plan,” Bowden said, adding that the park has potential to become a new urban attraction.

Levitan, EBDI and officials of the Annie E. Casey Foundation have been meeting with the community all summer in an attempt to outline the new plan. The meetings have been marked by protest and controversy as some residents have complained they have been left out of the planning process.

Janice Hamilton Outtz, a senior associate at Casey who has chaired the meetings, pledged to compromise with the residents before taking the master plan before the EBDI board.

Outtz declined to comment Wednesday about Levitan’s presentation to the city review panel.

Levitan said of the talks with the residents, “It’s an ongoing process. Our hope is we reach an understanding and a framework.”

The new plans for Middle East includes construction of up to 250 housing units at the site, 150 of which will be rental units, Levitan said Thursday. Overall, the goal is to add up to 2,000 housing units to the site.

The market-rate housing will sell for up to $220,000. Rental units will be multiple-bedroom units designed to attract families to live at the site and enroll their children in a $40 million community school that will be built there.

“There will be a challenge to attract market-rate buyers who choose to live in this area,” Levitan said, citing the recession that has shredded the local housing market. “We’re building a community that’s going to last at least 100 years.”

Before Levitan’s presentation, the design panel approved schematic designs for the new community school, to be built on 7 acres off Ashland Avenue and Chester Street.

The public school is expected to open in late 2013 and will be built with public and private funds.

The architects outlined the modular, open design that includes courtyards and large, airy “learning terraces,” classrooms designed for 20-student classes, and teaching gardens on the rim of the property.

Translucent glass will be used so the school buildings will “glow in the night.”