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Downtown residences up, but workers down

Baltimore’s downtown core experienced some highs and lows last year as businesses and new residents moved in, but the city’s office vacancy rate dipped to 17.7 percent while the number of workers declined by 10,706, a new report says.

The Munsey Building at 7 N. Calvert street

The annual State of Downtown Report 2011 by the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc. was released Thursday. In it, data shows that apartment occupancy in the city’s core — a radius of one mile from the intersection of Light and Pratt Streets — was measured at nearly 100 percent.

“Downtown Baltimore continues to be a place where people want to live and work,” said J. Kirby Fowler, president of the partnership, a nonprofit business advocacy group. “And the downtown growth emanates out and helps adjacent neighborhoods as well.”

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was expected to help unveil the report at an event Thursday at the Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore hotel. The mayor was also expected to detail the city’s process of redrawing its Enterprise Zones, as required by the 2010 Census figures, and that those zones would include tax incentives for new development downtown.

Fowler said the report focused on five areas of development: office vacancy rates; employment; the number of residents; and hotel and retail occupancy. Information was provided by Claritas, a national database.

The report states that 102,731 workers are employed in the core section of the city identified by the partnership in the report, a drop from the 113,437 figure recorded in 2010.

The report also said the core section has more than 42,000 residents, slightly more than the 41,000 residents counted in the 2010 State of Downtown report. In all, the report said, the number of families living within the one-mile radius had increased 12 percent from 2000.

Rental units downtown logged a 97 percent occupancy rate “with many buildings reporting they are 100 percent occupied,” Fowler said. Overall, downtown residents grew to 42,011 from 41,289 in 2010, the report said.

One such development, the Munsey Building at 7 N. Calvert St., is 92 percent occupied.

Fowler and the report cited a “lack of new multifamily residential construction” downtown, which he said had hampered the growth of apartment and condominium dwellers in center city.

A focus, he said, was to convert underused office buildings into residential projects in a census tract centered on the oldest section of downtown. There, 4,006 residents lived in 2010, up from 1,739 in 2000 — a 130 percent increase, the report said.

“That is the fastest-growing area in the city,” Fowler said of the tract, dubbed “the 401” because of its designation on the census rolls. The 401 is located in center city and runs west toward Lexington Market.

He added that 130 new apartment units are expected to open up this year as part of five new projects downtown, including developments at St. Paul and Mulberry streets, Center and St. Paul streets and 300 W. Baltimore St.

The vacancy rate for office space in the city’s core was 17.7 percent, a bit under last year’s 19.2 percent, Fowler said.

“So all the trends are heading in the right direction,” he said. “As of January 1, developers have started to pick up the phone and tell us they are moving here. We are very encouraged by that.”

One such project, he said, is the redevelopment of the former Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, an obsolete, yet modern concrete structure at 1 N. Charles St. that closed in 2004.

Details of that project by developer David S. Brown Enterprises LLC are expected to be announced within a month.

Fowler also lauded the amount of new retail that was attracted to the core in 2011, including a large H&M at Harborplace and a Fresh & Green’s grocery in a closed Super Fresh store at Saratoga and Charles streets. Restaurant openings in the core included the popular Chazz: A Bronx Original in Harbor East and Joe Squared Pizza in the historic Power Plant.

Retail sales in the downtown core totaled $928 million last year, while the retail vacancy rate was 5.7 percent, below the Baltimore metropolitan retail vacancy rate of 6.6 percent, the report said.

The total number of hotel rooms downtown in 2011 was 8,135 with an average daily rate of $146.93.

“We saw that four of the five indicators showed positive improvement,” Fowler said of the focus of the report. “And we say four out of five ain’t bad.”