The massive grain elevator in Baltimore's Locust Point neighborhood had been a local icon since 1923, its tower dwarfing the surrounding rowhomes. So when developer Pat Turner went looking for redevelopment opportunities in the area, the elevator quickly caught his eye.
“Here's this 300-foot-tall building with great views of the harbor [in an area] where the height limit for everything else is 35 feet,” said Turner, president of Baltimore-based Turner Development Group. “I immediately saw the possibilities.”
It took several years, a lot of hard work, and some creative thinking, but today those possibilities are a reality at Silo Point, a giant luxury for-sale development with 120 townhomes and 228 condos where tons of grain once resided.
INSANE OR BRILLIANT? When Turner first saw the site in 2002, the grain elevator was fully functional and going strong. Although no longer the industrial marvel it had once been—when it opened in 1923, it was the largest, fastest grain elevator in the world—it still moved 3.8 million bushels of grain a year from rail cars to trans-Atlantic cargo ships.
Eventually, Turner contacted the elevator's owners, the Archers Daniels Midland Co., with a sales inquiry. Their first answer? No way. “I called for seven months,” Turner said. “Finally, they said, ‘Send us some information.' They didn't know if I was brilliant or insane.”
In 2003, they must have made up their mind, selling the 8-acre site to Turner for $6.5 million. Turner was left with a functioning grain elevator filled with 10 miles of conveyor belts. Project architect Chris Pfaeffle said his first impression was one of chaos. “What appears to be a hodge-podge of bits and pieces turns out to be really logical,” says Pfaeffle, founder and principal of Baltimore-based Parameter. “We spent hours walking around this gigantic building trying to understand how it worked.”
|Storing, sorting, and shipping grain
|Hip, luxury housing for Baltimore residents
|Industrial aesthetic meets high-end living
|$6.5 million (2005)
As a result, Pfaeffle developed a streamlined, industrial aesthetic for the site. In the lobby, immense octagonal concrete columns remain in place. “They're chipped; they've got electrical boxes on them and numbers painted on them, but we wanted to keep that feel,” Turner says.
Several grain silos that surrounded the central elevator tower were demolished to make way for 120 new townhomes—their design is deliberately polished and contemporary in contrast to the historic tower. The elevator itself required careful reconstruction, since, in some areas, massive concrete structures had to be carved away without compromising the structural integrity of the building. The fire hazard of grain dust presented a further complication; all surfaces had to be carefully cleaned and power-sprayed.
PROJECT: Silo Point
DEVELOPER: Turner Development Group
RENOVATION COST: $102 million
LENGTH OF RENOVATION: 2 years
UNITS AND PRICING: 228 condos and 120 townhomes, ranging from $265,000 to $4 million
SCOPE OF PROJECT: Adaptive reuse of a grain elevator into luxury condos. Photo: Courtesy Cleo Communications Pfaeffle's team fit 228 one-, two- and three-bedroom condos into the tower, many with 12-foot-tall windows and views of the Northwest Harbor. Units range from 1,100 square feet to 5,500 square feet and include luxury touches such as stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, oversized soaking tubs, double bathroom sinks, and high-end flooring, fixtures, and lighting controls.
SUCCESS IN UNCERTAINTY The opening of Silo Point in October coincided with the economic downturn, but Turner isn't worried. He doesn't believe in pre-sales—the sales process began 40 days before the first move-in date—so he can price units where the market is. It's a strategy he says is based on his long experience in development.
“Three years ago, no one thought we'd be where we are now,” Turner says. “But because we bought this project so cheaply, we can lower prices and still make money.” His optimism appears well founded: By early November, more than 60 units had been sold, and Turner expects the rest to be gone by the close of 2009—assuming the economy doesn't get any worse.
If all goes well, Turner still has two remaining parcels that have yet to be developed. The firm's current plans are to develop one into 28 townhomes and the other as up to 80 apartments; timing on these projects is dependent on market conditions.
Meanwhile, Turner is at work finding tenants for the 20,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space; so far, he has signed a hair salon and a gourmet coffee shop and deli. He's pleased that his project is part of the overall rejuvenation of Locust Point, where, he says, “every vacant lot is being bought up.”
In fact, new projects are sprouting up all over, but Turner isn't worried about the competition. “There's only one grain elevator,” he says confidently.
Elizabeth Lunday is a frelance writer based in Forth Worth, Texas.
Converting working industrial space to residential housing is trickier than you might think.
Understand the site. You can't convert an industrial site until you figure out how it originally functioned. “Don't try to force something on it that you saw somewhere else,” says Chris Pfaeffle, principal at Baltimore architectural firm Parameter. “Let it generate its own thing, and it will be unique.”
2.Use events to your advantage. Silo Point has gotten great PR by hosting events such as dinners and receptions. Investor George Soros held a dinner at the site, as did a CEO group, both times bringing potential buyers to the project. Pat Turner, president of Baltimore-based Turner Development Group, lets organizers have the site free of charge—the marketing opportunity is worth it.
- 3.Keep your head. Don't get too emotionally wrapped up in a project, Turner recommends. Silo Point is succeeding in this uncertain environment because Turner made decisions based on the numbers, not on emotion.