As developer Bill Struever shows off his latest endeavor in Baltimore, he can't help but linger by the pool. The 2,400-square-foot oasis majestically rises from the ruins of an 1800s-era manufacturing building that burnt to the ground in the late 1990s. Exposed brick ruins surround the pool and serve as a link to the past while cast-iron columns—left over from the construction of the U.S. Capitol Building, no less—are capped off by gas torches that illuminate the pool at night.

“The pool is already legendary,” says Struever, president and CEO of Baltimore-based Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, known as SBER. “It has an amazing design and spirit and is an instant icon.”

The pool sits in the heart of a former manufacturing site where as many as 11 mills operated throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The industrial park, most famous for the Poole & Hunt Foundry and Machine Works, produced items ranging from war-related artillery to cotton duck for sails and cast iron columns. By the 1930s, however, most of the factories shut down, and in recent years the space was used by metal and glass artists. In 1995, a devastating fire left many of the buildings in disrepair.

INDUSTRIAL CHIC: An old crane hangs high above the courtyard at the Assembly Building, part of Clipper Mill, as a tribute to the site's historical past.

INDUSTRIAL CHIC: An old crane hangs high above the courtyard at the Assembly Building, part of Clipper Mill, as a tribute to the site's historical past.

Over the years, SBER kept a close eye on the property, which is tucked in Jones Falls Valley just a few miles from downtown Baltimore. The company had revitalized several nearby mills and was itching to do another one. “We had done our first mill here in 1985 and were fascinated with the valley,” Struever says. “But the market fell apart in the late '80s before we really could get anything else going, and the early '90s was not the time to be doing new development. So it was only in the late '90s when we began thinking again about the valley.”

The company finally made its move and purchased the site in April 2003. SBER transformed the underutilized site into Clipper Mill, a vibrant 17.5-acre mixed-use community boasting 62 condos, 36 loft-style apartments, 34 town-homes, 36 semi-detached homes still under construction, 47,500 square feet of artist studios, and 65,000 square feet of office and retail space spread throughout the former warehouses, plus several new buildings. The next phase calls for an additional 79 apartment units plus approximately 18,000 square feet of office space.

HARD DAY'S WORK

SBER employees hold an ongoing contest to rank the firm's most challenging projects. Not surprisingly, Clipper Mill is high on that list. “We specialize in hard-to-do, challenging endeavors, but this is more than most,” Struever says. Among the massive undertakings: transforming an 1890 structure, once used for the assembly of large machines, into a 36-unit industrial chic apartment complex aptly named the Assembly Building. The development team artfully crafted a new structure within the original shell, which was all that remained after the fire.

“I compare it to putting a ship into a bottle,” says David Benn, principal of Cho Benn Holback + Associates, a Baltimore-based architecture firm that worked on the project. “You have the entire shell and the roof trusses, and you are trying to insert into that an entirely new multistory building.” The team worked closely with the National Park Service to meet its strict requirements, including how the floors met the old windows and the overall design of the atrium. The end result honors the building's industrial past with a corrugated metal façade and a large, original crane—painted a bright yellow—that hangs high above the courtyard.

Next door, the 62-unit new construction Millrace Building posed its own unique challenges. “On a historic tax credit project, blending old with new is always a challenge,” Struever says. “The Park Service has this vague rule that says new construction should be compatible and complimentary but not copy the original structures.” As a result, the finished product features two completely different façades: The side facing the main street mimics historic brick, while the rear features a contemporary metal exterior with balconies.

BUILT TO LAST

Clipper Mill is green by nature. After all, the developer recycled a large site that had been underutilized for more than 20 years and required a $1.2 million environmental cleanup. But just as important, Clipper Mill also is green by design. Among its features: A 1,600-square-foot green roof sits atop the Assembly Building to help lower operating costs. Plus, two nearby parking lots offer stormwater management systems and porous paving.

Green features are a hot commodity today, says Jonathan Rose, president of New York-based Jonathan Rose Cos., a partner in the project. “The real estate industry is already seeing our residents and office tenants for green space,” Rose says. At Clipper Mill, prospects are also asking for a little blue—once they see the legendary pool, that is.


PROPERTY: Clipper Mill

DEVELOPER: Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse
ARCHITECT: Cho Benn Holback + Associates
LOCATION: Baltimore
RENOVATION COST: $73 million
LENGTH OF RENOVATION: Three and a half years
SCOPE OF PROJECT: Adaptive reuse of an industrial park on a 17.5-acre site

ACTION ITEMS

  • Capitalize on your in-house talent. Artist tenants created metal and glass sculptures that adorn the development.
  • Think outside the box. Tight on parking space, Clipper Mill will soon offer the Flexcar car-sharing program.
  • Landscape for the future. The landscape architect planted trees similar to those in the woods behind the properties. That way, when the trees mature, the buildings will look like they are carved out of the woods.