Before opening its newest property near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, Questar Properties had focused much of its efforts on low-rise, office, and retail development in the Mid-Atlantic region. Its only other high-rise residential project, Horizon House in midtown Baltimore City, dates back to 1965. Still in operation today, the 21-story tower contains 212 apartments and some first-floor retail space, including the one-time corporate offices of the family-run builder and developer.
Fifty-four years later, Questar’s third- and fourth-generation leadership has taken cues from luxury towers in other urban areas to step back into the high-rise space, bringing with them a luxury design ethos and hospitality-level concierge services and amenities for 414 Light Street, which opened in December.
“We wanted to take our company, which was in large measure a suburban development-oriented company, and come back into the city, but do it in an urban mixed-use way,” says Stephen Gorn, CEO. He envisioned and developed the project with his son, Zachary, Questar’s vice president of development and strategy. “We wanted to be part of the urban renaissance going on around the Inner Harbor and throughout downtown Baltimore.”
About 150 units are now occupied in the 394-unit tower, currently the tallest residential building in Maryland at 44 stories. The building’s design, created by Chicago architect Solomon Cordwell Buenz, aims to recreate the looks of luxury high-rise towers like those found in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco while respecting Baltimore’s existing architectural environment and context. “We wanted to do something that was a new vision for the apartment market for our region and certainly for downtown Baltimore,” Gorn says. “So we imported the architectural elements that we thought were appropriate and dynamic.”
Questar began its life in the late 1920s as a townhome acquisition and renovation company founded by Sarah Gorn, Stephen Gorn’s grandmother, and her sons Morton and Samuel. Originally known as Gorn Brothers, the company operated as Gorn Properties from the 1940s through the 1970s, then changed its name to Questar Properties in 1984. By then the firm’s operations had expanded into a full-fledged group of diversified investment companies. The Gorn and Questar businesses have built and developed over 14,000 homes and apartments, most of them in the greater Baltimore metropolitan area.
Questar had been eyeing 414 Light Street since the early 1990s. Once the home of the McCormick Spice company’s corporate headquarters, the site was cleared in 1989 and operated as a parking lot through the 2000s. Philadelphia-based developer ARC Wheeler’s plans to build a mixed-use high-rise fell through during the Great Recession, and Questar acquired the site for $11.5 million in 2011 through a short sale from Susquehanna Bank.
Gorn considered the site “the best location undeveloped in downtown Baltimore,” close to the Inner Harbor, the convention center, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and public transit stations. “It’s got a walkability rating of 97 because of its proximity to the central business district,” he says.
The site was originally intended for an office, but when that didn’t come to pass Gorn saw the opportunity to develop and execute on a residential project unlike anything Questar had done before. Not only does the $170 million project take visual cues from ultra-luxury residential towers, but it also implements a level of services and amenities inspired by five-star hotels and resorts.
Gorn cites Ten Thousand, a 40-story apartment tower in Beverly Hills with a full concierge staff, as one of the project’s inspirations. “Obviously you can do things in Beverly Hills that you can’t do everywhere in this country,” he says. “But we believe that you can do a lot of the really high-end resort services and hotel services successfully, selectively, in certain locations for high-rise apartment buildings. And we believe 414 Light Street is the right location for that in downtown Baltimore.”
In a nod to the site’s history as a McCormick processing plant, each of the unit floor plans has a spice-based name, including “The Cayenne” and “The Lemongrass.” Units range in size from studios to two-bedroom apartments; rents start at $1,799 for a studio apartment and range in the $6,000s to $8,000s for one of the 11 penthouses.
Standard features include keyless entry, smart home technology, walk-in closets, and Bosch appliances. Penthouse units offer fireplaces, 10-foot ceilings, wine refrigerators, and private terrace gardens in select plans. The building is LEED Silver certified, with LED fixtures, Energy Star appliances, and water-efficient fixtures.
The cornerstone of 414 Light Street’s amenities are its concierge and wellness offerings. Services include package acceptance, grocery delivery, amenity space event planning, personal training and wellness consultations, personal shopping, dog-walking and pet-sitting, housekeeping, and car and event booking. Questar employs a full concierge team, including a lifestyle concierge team leader and a former Ritz-Carlton Group general manager as a consultant, with services available 24/7.
“It is a growing trend in the industry, more concierge services,” Gorn says. “We think we’re really pushing the envelope to its furthest reaches right now, and we think it’s warranted and merited. And the market has been responding very vigorously to it.”
The building’s seventh-floor deck boasts nearly a full acre of amenity space, including a landscaped sky park and activity lawn, an outdoor kitchen, grilling areas, and a pool that overlooks the Inner Harbor. Inside, residents can take advantage of a demonstration kitchen, a media room, a dining room, a game room, a library, and business and conference areas, as well as a 4,000-square-foot fitness center with a yoga room and two massage rooms.
The ground floor’s commercial spaces have been leased to two vegan restaurants from chef Matthew Kenney, who plans to offer demonstrations for residents. His establishments will open this summer. A third restaurant, Ramen Utsuke, will open in May.
More to Come
Now that Questar’s second high-rise tower is complete, Stephen Gorn isn’t about to wait another 54 years to build a third. 414 Light Street covers 1.1 acres of the original 1.92-acre lot, and the remaining 0.81 acres will make up the second phase, which is currently in the design-concept stage.
While the scope of the next phase isn’t solidified, Gorn considers 414 Light Street a prototype for future Questar projects, both in and outside of Baltimore. “We’ve looked at Philadelphia, and we’ve looked at some sites in Northern Virginia,” he says. “You have to be very selective about something like this, but being selective we think there are several other locations in the Mid-Atlantic that would be fertile for this execution.”
Gorn does not foresee many buildings of this height springing up in downtown Baltimore, but he does believe the area is undergoing a housing renaissance.
“We wanted to be on the leading edge,” he says. “And I think as that renaissance continues, you’re going to see more high-quality residential buildings in downtown Baltimore, not just apartments for rent but condominiums. The landscape is changing, it’s evolving, and that’s going to continue. It’s going to get even better and stronger.”