Renovation planned for old brewery Project includes housing, shops, job training

June 01, 1993|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

Baltimore's long-vacant American Brewery would be renovated as the centerpiece of a $10 million to $12 million revitalization project for East Baltimore under plans developed by the Council for Economic and Business Opportunity.

CEBO President Michael Gaines told representatives of the Broadway East community last week that two manufacturing companies have signed letters of intent to occupy the first phase of the mixed-use complex and that he expects construction to begin soon.

"Shortly, that site will no longer stand as a deteriorated industrial building," he said. "It will stand as a monument, a beacon, to the revitalization of East Baltimore."

Founded in 1967 to help small and minority businesses grow and become more competitive, the CEBO was chosen several years ago to redevelop the city-owned property, which straddles the 1600 and 1700 blocks of N. Gay St.

Because it has never undertaken a large construction project before, the CEBO joined forces with several partners with expertise needed to carry out particular phases of the project. They include the Southern Baptist Church, the Housing Assistance Corp., the French Co. and Justin Development Corp.

In addition to a job-training center and "flexible manufacturing" space, the team plans to build 40 apartments for senior citizens, shops, offices, a day care center and, possibly, a brewery museum.

"We wanted to make it a comprehensive project in terms of uses," Mr. Gaines said. "Rather than creating an industrial park at the site, we thought a mixed-use project would meet needs of the community better."

One of the project's main goals, he said, is to establish a place where unskilled workers can be trained to manufacture products such as electronics components for private companies. The companies, in turn, would be able to occupy space in the brewery buildings as a way of expanding their operations, then hire workers who have gone through the council's training program.

The project is expected to bring several hundred jobs to the area -- some new, some relocated from elsewhere -- and first priority in any hiring will go to residents of the immediate area who have gone through the council's training program.

Federal officials are intrigued by the project, Mr. Gaines said, because it could serve as a model for similar projects in other cities. Besides helping to train the local labor force to meet the needs of small and minority businesses, it also can help attract other investment to the area and stimulate rehabilitation of the housing there, he said.

The CEBO has obtained a $1 million grant from the federal Department of Health and Human Services to launch the project, including $700,000 to start the job training program. The other $300,000 may be used for construction.

Mr. Gaines said the CEBO is seeking $700,000 needed to begin work on the first phase, the $1 million conversion to manufacturing space of the former bottling plant at the northeast end of the site.

The city housing department plans to spend an additional $100,000 to $250,000 this year to stabilize the exterior of the five-story brew house at 1701 N. Gay St, a perennial nominee on preservationists' "endangered buildings" lists.

The Schmoke administration has set revitalization of the Gay Street corridor as one of its top economic development priorities and has designated the landmark brew house as an important building to preserve.

"It's a very important project for us and the anchor for our efforts along Gay Street," said Housing Commissioner Daniel Henson. "It is a magnificent structure."

Mr. Henson said the housing department is in the final stages of negotiating with the development team over re-use plans for the site and that he could not yet say what funding commitment the city might make beyond the stabilization work. "We're a long way down the pike, but we're not ready to call it a done deal," he said.

Brewery was built in 1887

Built in 1887 to house a brewery founded in 1863 by John Frederick Wiessner, the complex later was expanded to house the offices of the Allegheny Beverage Corp., which produced American Beer there. At its peak, the property contained 20 buildings and was an employment center for hundreds.

The brewery closed in 1973, and its buildings were subsequently acquired by the city. In recent years, they have deteriorated badly, and many smaller ones have been razed.

In addition to the renovation of the five-story brew house and the bottling plant, the CEBO plan calls for restoration of the former brewer's mansion and the "wagon house" and stables used when beer was distributed by horse-drawn wagons.

In his meeting with the Broadway East community, Mr. Gaines said he could not yet name the project's first tenants. But he said one company is a machine shop and one manufactures electronic components.

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