The two-day auction for One Charles Center ended Thursday afternoon with a $4.5 million purchase price, less than the $6 million the late Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos paid for it in 1996. The buyer was undisclosed.

The 23-story modernist office tower, designed by famed architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, was built at a cost of $10.4 million in 1962 after years of downtown deterioration. The 1960s development of Charles Center, which the building anchors, served as “a symbol of the new city,” authors John R. Dorsey and James D. Dilts wrote in “A Guide to Baltimore Architecture.”

Downtown boosters are hoping the building’s sale means it can recapture its status as a revitalizing force. Angelos previously tried to sell the property in August 2022. The final few minutes of the auction saw a flurry of bidding activity on Ten-X, the online auction house that hosted the listing.

“Anything that is done to backfill a building and create activity, be it residential or more office space, is good for the Central Business District,” said Terri Harrington, a commercial real estate broker. “It puts more people, more bodies downtown and more commerce happens as a result.”

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Like many cities, Baltimore has struggled to recover vitality after the COVID-19 pandemic. Business locations like Charles Center are grappling with the prevalence of remote work and worries about crime.

Adding to the challenge: The area hasn’t captured the attention of developers and buyers in recent years, as newer enclaves like Harbor East and Harbor Point continue to grow.

Still, the history of Charles Center — and specifically One Charles Center — holds special appeal. Van der Rohe, a pioneer of modern architecture, modeled One Charles Center after the Seagram Building in New York City. As the city’s first modernist structure, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“That building has tremendous history,” Harrington said. “One Charles Center and One North Charles were the first buildings to establish what is now known as the Central Business District.”

One Charles Center was a feather in the cap of the city’s 14-block Charles Center development project, which began in 1958 and included several old buildings, such as the Lord Baltimore Hotel, built in 1928. The first Baltimore City Fair, billed as a celebration of the city’s ethnic neighborhoods, was held on Charles Center’s expansive plaza in the 1970s.

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A plaque outside One Charles Center includes a photo of the Baltimore City Fair being held at Charles Center in the 1970s. (Norman Gomlak)

The future of Charles Center

Charles Center isn’t going away any time soon. In fact, it’s going through a transformation.

The Baltimore Gas and Electric Building recently had major renovations to bring the structure “into a workplace that could accommodate the evolving opportunities and expectations of a thriving, 21st century company,” boasted McKissack & McKissack, the architecture, engineering, program and construction management firm that provided interior design services for the renovation.

The state’s Office of the Public Defender is set to move to 201 N. Charles St. soon. And the CFG Bank Arena reopened a year ago after renovations.

While One Charles Center could continue to be primarily offices, the selling point for potential buyers may be the building’s ability to become something new. Located in an “opportunity zone,” or a city and state tax-incentivized area, the next owner could give it a new future as a “premier urban high-rise,” according to the auction listing.

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This wouldn’t be the first building in the area to go residential. Its neighbor, the Fidelity & Deposit Building, is converting from offices to multifamily apartments. It’s expected to have 220 units, as well as space for dining and retail.

Local business owners have long been aware of the decline of Charles Center as the city’s business hub.

Kathy Brady, co-owner of David and Dad’s restaurant across the street from One Charles Center, said she started to feel things changing about 10 years ago. Things worsened when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she said.

David and Dad’s has been on North Charles Street for more than 30 years and moved into its current location about seven years ago.

Improvements to Charles Center are welcomed by local business owners, but Brady said she hopes One Charles Center stays an office tower. Residential could mean more remote workers who aren’t leaving their apartments during business hours, she feared.

“I would prefer it to be offices rather than residential because we close every day at 3 p.m., and people aren’t going to work,” Brady said. When workers come into the city, Brady said, businesses like hers benefit because “everybody needs a place to eat lunch.”

Bria Overs covers business at The Baltimore Banner.

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