Terminal Warehouse projected as a terminal case

April 23, 1992|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

The six-story Terminal Warehouse, part of the Fells Point historic district and one of the largest buildings on the East Baltimore waterfront, would be demolished and replaced with a combination park, parking lot and waterfront promenade, if the Schmoke administration approves the plan.

Dating from early 1900s and originally used to store cargo shipped through the port of Baltimore, the vacant building at 1601 Thames St. is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The KMS Group, which manages the building for Constellation Properties, a subsidiary of the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., is seeking city permission to raze the warehouse and landscape the 1.3-acre site until market conditions enable Constellation to move ahead with a replacement project.

The plan marks the second instance in less than two months in which a property owner has sought to raze a historic property in Baltimore and landscape the site for interim uses until the real estate market improves.

The other pending case involves the Southern Hotel at Redwood and Light streets, a 13-story building that a development team wants to replace with a park until it can move ahead with construction of a 46-story office tower.

In recent years, city officials have allowed owners to raze the Tower Building at South and Baltimore streets, the McCormick & Co. spice plant at 414 Light St. and the News-American plant at 301 E. Lombard St. to make way for future development.

Before making a decision on the warehouse, Baltimore Housing Commissioner Robert Hearn is giving the property owner and neighborhood residents a chance to express their views at a community forum set for 7:30 p.m. April 29 at the Lemko House, 603 S. Ann St.

The Terminal Warehouse is the largest single structure on a 12-acre parcel that Constellation owns next to its Brown's Wharf retail and office complex at Broadway and Thames Street.

Several years ago, the owners said their long-range plan was to raze the warehouse and construct a second phase of Brown's Wharf, but they never moved ahead with a specific project.

When he first took office, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said he would like the developers to provide specific plans for a replacement building and proof of financing before they proceeded with demolition.

Kent Johnson, assistant vice president for KMS, said the firm is seeking to raze the building now because it looks as if no new development will occur in the near future and the warehouse has become an "attractive nuisance" that draws vagrants. He also said that the building hinders use of the parking lot behind it and that razing it would allow the owner to improve public access to the waterfront and bring parking closer to the first phase of Brown's Wharf.

BG&E officials said earlier this month that they wanted to get the company out of the real estate business and sell their holdings but would not do so at fire-sale prices. Mr. Johnson said the company does not expect to sell the Fells Point property soon but wants to be in a position to keep the area well-maintained and attract new users.

He said the major change in BG&E's stance regarding Fells Point

is that it will not be building any projects without signing tenants in advance, and KMS believes it would have a far better chance to do so with the site cleared and landscaped.

"What we're looking for is to . . . have a site that is attractive to some sort of end user who wants to be on the Fells Point waterfront," Mr. Johnson said. "We have come to realize that our ability to redevelop the site is enhanced significantly if we are ready to go" with new construction.

Carolyn Donkervoet, executive director of the Society for the NTC Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point, said her group is waiting until after the April 29 meeting to take a position on the plan.

She expressed concern about the utility's recent disclosure about its real estate holdings and what that might mean for other buildings it controls in Fells Point, among them the London Coffee House and the George Wells Residence near the corner of Bond and Thames streets, Chase's Wharf at Philpot and Thames streets, and Miller's Wharf along the waterfront.

Mr. Johnson said his company is not seeking to sell or raze any other building in Fells Point. But it also has not been able to identify new uses for them and is open to suggestions from the community, he said.

Fred Shoken, president of Baltimore Heritage, a preservation advocacy group, said he is concerned by the trend in which property owners are seeking demolition permits without plans to proceed with replacement structures.

"It doesn't make any sense to tear a building down if you have no use for the site, and I don't consider a parking or a park a viable use," he said. "The thing that makes Fells Point popular is its historic buildings. If you start tearing down all the historic buildings, you take away the main reason for its popularity."

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