The former Hecht Co. department store building at Howard and Lexington streets appears to be the Schmoke administration's first choice to become the city's next police headquarters.
Without revealing the exact location of the property under consideration, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke this week did hint that it is in the central business district and said a space planner has been hired to study it and that a decision is near.
Others close to the deliberations say it is, in fact, the eight-story Hecht building that is being studied and that the space planner will give the mayor a final report by the end of the week.
A final decision on the move is expected within a month by a city committee formed to recommend a new site for police headquarters, now located in the 600 block of East Fayette Street.
John J. Hentschel, head of Baltimore's real estate department, confirmed that the committee is close to reaching a decision but declined to discuss the matter any further.
Ted Georgelas, a partner of the Virginia-based group that owns the building, said the city's space planner toured the building within thelast several weeks and has sought floor plans and other information about it.
Mr. Georgelas said no one from the city has been in contact with his group except for the space planner and that he has received no notification that the Hecht property is the city's first choice.
The 280,000-square-foot building is owned by Great Northeast Land and Machinery Inc. of McLean, Va., a partnership of two development firms, Petrie Dierman Kughn and Partners and Ted Georgelas & Sons L.C.
The city of Baltimore already has a long-term lease for the top three floors of the building, which is occupied by city and state agencies. Great Northeast has offered to convert the entire building for use by the police department -- a project estimated to cost more than $20 million -- and then sell or lease it to the city. Anderson, Cooper and Georgelas of McLean would be the architect, and the work would take 12 to 15 months to complete, under the group's proposal.
More than two dozen sites were suggested last year in response to a city-issued request for proposals, including the old Montgomery Ward distribution center at Washington Boulevard and Monroe Street and the office tower at 6 St. Paul St. Representatives for both of those buildings said Wednesday a city-hired space planner had not toured the buildings.
Hecht opened the eight-level building in 1925 and closed it in January 1989, joining the exodus over the past 15 years of downtown department stores. including branches of Hochschild, Kohn & Co., Stewart's and Hutzler's.
During the past two years, merchants in the Howard Street corridor have lobbied heavily for city officials to select the Hecht property. They say the move would reinforce the city's efforts to turn Howard Street into the government corridor while adding a reassuring presence for shoppers and office workers. They say two parking garages in the area -- including the city-owned facility next to Lexington Market -- could be used for police vehicles.
Milt Rosenbaum, president of the Market Center Association, said he and his group have spent considerable time and money attempting to persuade the mayor and police officials to move to Howard Street.
"We felt as a group that nothing would make such an immediate impact on bringing Howard Street back to what it once was than having the police headquarters building locate here with 2,000 to 3,000 people a day coming and going," Mr. Rosenbaum said.
"If the city has decided to move there, he said, "we would be elated. We would jump up and down with joy. For years, we have had to put up with the subway and light rail construction. This could be the start of good things on Howard Street. That's the type of thing that's going to bring this area back to life."
Constructed less than 20 years ago, at a cost of $14 million, the present headquarters on Fayette Street has a faulty ventilation system that needs to be replaced. But dangerous asbestos materials must be removed before any other work can be completed, making the repairs extremely costly.
The extent of the required renovations has led to speculation that the city may have to tear down the building after the Police Department moves out, because it would not be cost-efficient to renovate.
Mr. Georgelas said city officials have asked whether his group would be interested in acquiring the Fayette Street building if police headquarters is moved to Howard Street. He said he would be interested in discussing the idea further.
City officials also are trying to decide where to relocate the police academy, which is now situated at the old Baltimore Colts training facility off Bonita Avenue in Owings Mills. They want to be able to convert the facility back into a football training camp in the event the city is successful in obtaining a National Football League expansion team.