Baptist group to buy NCR building, move headquarters there

June 06, 1994|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Sun Staff Writer

Hailed as a triumph of Baltimore's urban renewal in 1963 but vacant and vandalized since 1989, the former National Cash Register Building near the state office complex is expected to begin a new life soon as headquarters for a group of Maryland Baptists.

The Rev. John L. Wright, the recently elected president of the United Baptist Missionary Convention and Auxiliaries, said the organization of ministers and laity has agreed to buy the three-story, glass-walled building at Madison Avenue and Preston Street for $600,000. The settlement date is June 15.

Dr. Wright said the missionary convention, which describes itself as the largest formal organization of black Baptists in Maryland, hopes to turn its present West Baltimore headquarters and seminary -- occupying a large rowhouse at 1434 McCulloh St. -- into a Christian museum.

The Rev. Nathaniel Higgs, former president of the United Baptist group, said the asking price for the vacant Madison Avenue building was reduced from $2 million to $1 million before the agreed-to price of $600,000 was reached.

Built 31 years ago as part of the Mount Royal Plaza urban renewal project at a cost of $600,000, the 38,000-square-foot office structure is on a landscaped 1 1/3 -acre lot that includes a paved parking area. Consultants have told the buyers that necessary repairs to the vandalized building will cost as much as $120,000.

The seller is a partnership that includes the original developer and leaser of the property, Irving J. Glasser of Towson. Mark Carp is the broker and the partners are represented by the Towson law firm of Azrael, Gann and Franz. The buyers are represented by Baltimore lawyer James L. Rouse.

The missionary convention, which says it represents about 100,000 Baptists in 100 congregations, is one of several large Baptist associations active in Maryland.

Dr. Wright, pastor of First Baptist Church of Guilford in Howard County and recent state president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was chosen to head the Baptist group at its 68th annual session May 17.

In 1926, Maryland's United Baptists became part of one of several American Baptist denominations -- the National Baptist Convention USA Inc. -- which now has more than 7 million adherents across the country.

But the Maryland convention traces its history to 1834, when a white leather merchant moved to Baltimore from Richmond, Va., and persuaded ex-slave Moses Clayton to start a Sunday School here. It became First Colored People's Baptist Church in 1836. By 1882, the number of Maryland Baptist congregations formed by free blacks had grown considerably. Their churches were still under the control of a predominantly white Baptist association, however, and in 1897 the first Colored Baptist Convention was organized. A series of steps led to the final reorganization in 1926.

Among the institutions and groups affiliated with the convention are the Maryland Baptist Aged Home at 2801 Rayner Ave., incorporated in 1920; the United Baptist Convention College and Seminary at the McCulloh Street address, founded in 1941; the Laymen's League; the Women's Auxiliary; and the Young People's Department. All except the home for the aged will be relocated in the Madison Avenue building, Dr. Wright said.

National Cash Register (NCR) moved out of the leased quarters west of the State Office Building on Preston Street in August 1989. Last November, as the result of a two-year merger process, NCR Corp. officially became part of AT&T Corp.

The late Gov. J. Millard Tawes had dedicated the addition to the city's Mount Royal Plaza renewal project in 1963 with much fanfare. At the time, S. J. Vedro, the National Cash Register branch manager, said, "NCR has great faith in the future of Baltimore and is proud to be one of the firms to participate in the development of this new business area."

As it turned out, NCR was one of only two nongovernmental tenants to move into the project -- the other being Baltimore Life, whose vacated building on Howard Street was acquired recently by the city.

Glasser Leasing Co. Inc., the developer for NCR, which rented the building under a long-term lease, had paid the Baltimore Urban Renewal and Housing Agency $138,000 for the cleared land on Madison Avenue. Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. was the builder and Ilhan Arikuglu was the architect.

Part of the owners' new agreement with the Baptist convention is a stipulation that "the actual fair-market value of the subject property is at least $841,600, based on a determination made by the Property Tax Assessment Appeals Board for Baltimore City on Dec. 22, 1993."

Attorneys for the sellers said they were willing to accept $600,000 for the property and provide financing "because the buyer is a charitable institution."

According to a 64-page architectural study for the Baptist group by Connor Environmental Services and the Heyn Company in Towson, the vacant building "has experienced accelerated wear due to lack of maintenance and vandalism."

Among repairs recommended by the consultants are a new roof for $26,000, new air-conditioning equipment for as much as $45,000 and new carpeting and floor tiles for about $13,000.

The cost of replacing windows and repairing exterior panels was estimated at between $6,500 and $13,000.

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