Optimism surges at old brewery Officials hope to see razing, renovation spur development.

November 14, 1991|By Kevin Thomas | Kevin Thomas,Evening Sun Staff

Demolition is under way at the old American Brewery in East Baltimore, where several buildings are being razed and others are slated for renovation under a city-backed urban renewal project.

The brewery complex, which includes eight buildings in the 1600 and 1700 blocks of N. Gay St., was built in 1887 to house the John Frederick Wiessner brewery.

Only the original brew house, which has been designated a national historic site, and the bottling building that dates from the 1940s will be saved, city officials say.

Six other structures -- including buildings used once as a beer cellar, barrel storage facility, barrel washing facility, refrigeration structure, boiler room and machine shop -- are being torn down.

Baltimore's Council for Equal Business Opportunity (CEBO), a non-profit organization providing technical assistance to minority businesses, plans to sign a lease to take over the remaining buildings within 30 to 45 days, says Michael Gaines, CEBO president.

Ultimately, CEBO plans to use the buildings to house several light-manufacturing tenants, seven of whom are currently negotiating possible leases, Gaines says.

One of the goals is to create up to 100 new jobs in the economically depressed East Baltimore neighborhood within two years.

CEBO has been granted just over $1 million from the U.S. Health and Human Services Department to begin the first phase of renovations at the site. The city, which owns the 2.4-acre site, has offered development rights to CEBO.

But a city official says CEBO's efforts could prove daunting in light of current economic conditions. "Trying to find people to invest in a slum during the middle of a depression is tough," the source says.

But Gaines says he is optimistic the project will not succumb to the country's economic woes.

"We've been fortunate in that the money that we got to do the project with was a grant," Gaines says. "The companies we are working and talking with are small . . . and yet they have been able to weather the recession as well as some other well-heeled companies have."

The demolition at American Brewery represents the first phase in attempts to revitalize the area of Gay Street south of North Avenue. The area was designated an urban renewal site in 1988, but revitalization failed to move substantially beyond the planning phase until now.

The project is part of a larger revitalization effort that includes the city's plan to purchase approximately 100 abandoned and occupied residential properties between the 1400 and 1800 blocks of N. Gay St.

People living in those homes will be relocated, officials say. The properties will then be renovated, with some vacant land being used for new residential construction.

The upgraded homes will then be offered for sale or rent. But officials said it could take several years to finish the residential portion of the project.

Currently, the city is awaiting the appraisal of a property at 1501 N. Gay, which the city hopes to purchase with federal block grant funds. Community leaders are hoping the city will turn the building into housing for the elderly.

In the meantime, the wrecking ball is providing the only sign of activity along the blighted Gay Street corridor. The Baltimore-based International Crane Co. has been awarded a $162,000 contract to demolish the buildings within approximately 90 days.

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