Old brewery to be converted to job center

August 31, 1991|By Edward Gunts

The long-dormant American Brewery, an East Baltimore landmark, will be converted to a new job-training and employment center under a plan proposed by a minority business organization.

Baltimore's Council for Equal Business Opportunity is spearheading a drive to refurbish the four-building complex in the 1600 and 1700 blocks of North Gay Street and already has obtained a federal grant of $1.025 million to start the first phase of renovations.

Michael Gaines, president of the council, said that the grant from the Department of Health and Human Services will enable his organization to begin renovating one of the four brewery buildings and launch a job-training program for unskilled city residents, especially those from the impoverished Broadway East area around the brewery.

Built in 1887 to house a brewery founded in 1863 by John Frederick Wiessner, the five-story complex later was expanded to house the offices of the Allegheny Beverage Corp., which produced American Beer there. The brewery, which occupied 3 acres, closed in 1973 and is now owned by the city.

City officials say the Council for Equal Business Opportunity has been negotiating with them to take control of the site and that a land-disposition agreement is likely to be presented to the Board of Estimates soon.

Mr. Gaines said that the council also is assembling a development team that would carry out the renovation of the former bottling plant at the northeast end of the site.

The idea behind the project, called the Urban Industrial and Technology Development Center, is to establish a place where unskilled workers can be trained to manufacture particular products for private companies, such as electronics components, Mr. Gaines said. The companies, in turn, would be able to occupy space in the adjoining brewery buildings as 5/8 5/8 TC way of expanding their operations, and then hire workers who have gone through the council's training program.

"This is the first bricks-and-mortar project for CEBO, and we think it's important for the community," Mr. Gaines said. "It's not an incubator. The concept is built around flexible management.

"We'll be looking at strengthening the industrial and technological capability of small and minority firms within the city by taking advantage of the existing labor force.

We want to train the labor force to meet the needs of small businesses."

Federal officials are intrigued by the project, Mr. Gaines said, because it could serve as a model for similar projects in other cities. It also can help attract other investment to the area around the brewery and stimulate rehabilitation of the housing there, he said.

Mr. Gaines said that seven companies have expressed interest in occupying portions of the brewery. He estimated that the entire renovation project could take several years and create more than 100 permanent jobs.

The architectural firm Cho, Wilks and Benn has been working to develop a master plan for the property.

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