Businessman launches effort to save warehouse

October 28, 1992|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

An Annapolis businessman has launched a last-ditch effort to save the Terminal Warehouse in Fells Point -- or what's left of it.

Three weeks after Baltimore's housing commissioner issued a demolition permit for the warehouse at 1601 Thames St., preservationist Paul Pearson has called for demolition to halt so that he can convert the building to an $18 million hotel and conference center.

Mr. Pearson, who converted five rundown hotels in the state capital to the Historic Inns of Annapolis, said he has a financial partner who is willing to buy the warehouse for $2 million from its owner, Constellation Real Estate Inc.

Last week Mr. Pearson asked Constellation to stop demolition and consider his plan to turn the six-story building into a 175-suite hotel with a 700-seat banquet hall.

This week, Mr. Pearson asked Baltimore housing Commissioner Robert Hearn to rescind the demolition permit issued Oct. 8.

"I am not normally a troublemaker, but I hate to see a building like this come down," Mr. Pearson said. "It's too perfect for what we want to do. People love historic buildings, especially on the waterfront. It could bring enormous economic vitality to the whole neighborhood."

Representatives for Constellation, a subsidiary of the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., say they wish they could have negotiated a sale agreement with Mr. Pearson before demolition work began two weeks ago.

But with a four-story bite already taken out of the northwest corner and a 2 1/2 -story hole in the west wall, the warehouse is "past the point of no return," said Kent Johnson, an assistant vice president with Constellation.

Mr. Johnson said crews have cut each of the main beams three-quarters of the way through in preparation for demolition, destroying the structural integrity of the building.

Mr. Pearson contends the beams are salvageable because they can be bolted together with steel plates -- an argument Mr. Johnson disputes.

Although Mr. Pearson's five historic inns have brought new life to Annapolis, they have not been a financial success.

Two partnerships involved in the Annapolis inns have filed for protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the federal Bankruptcy Code and are currently in the process of reorganization.

Mr. Pearson said he met his prospective warehouse conversion partner while seeking new financial backing for the inns. He declined to name the backer but said he was capable of putting up a $2 million letter of credit.

Mr. Johnson said Constellation has known about Mr. Pearson's idea since the late 1980s and was always receptive to an offer. But he said Mr. Pearson never presented an acceptable financial plan.

"We said we'd be happy to sell him the property if he could put a viable project together," Mr. Johnson said. "But he's never been able to take his idea and make it something that works as an investment."

Baltimore housing officials will not rescind the demolition permit, although they would not object if Constellation halts demolition voluntarily, said spokesman Bill Toohey.

"This has to be worked out between him and Constellation," Mr. Toohey said. "We are satisfied Constellation did what it could do to come up with a viable project, as is the community. We see no need to stop the process now."

Constellation officials told Fells Point residents this fall that they had not found an economically feasible plan for recycling the 90-year-old warehouse and wanted to replace it with a parking lot and landscaped park until market conditions improved enough for new development. They also promised to stabilize two nearby buildings with historic value, the George Wells House and the London Coffee House.

Mr. Pearson insists the warehouse can be saved, too, if no more of it is demolished.

"I hate to give up," he said, "because I know how good this project could be."

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