Mayor ends police unit's plan to rent space in luxury building

September 23, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer

At Scarlett Place, a downtown Baltimore high-rise with spectacular views of the Inner Harbor, condo owners and high-tech companies were about to get an unusual new neighbor -- the Police Department.

The Internal Investigations Division, which looks into allegations of police wrongdoing, planned to move from headquarters into roomier, less intimidating offices at the upscale condominium complex. It seemed a perfect move to allay the fears of potential informants.

But even though the deal also made financial sense, it quickly unraveled because the place was a little too prestigious, a little too far from neighborhoods and perhaps a little too politically uncomfortable.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke quashed the proposed five-year, $452,038 lease last week after taking one look at the address.

His action came just after a city real estate committee signed off on financial aspects of the deal but expressed concern over the appearance of moving a city agency into an upscale Inner Harbor building. The Space Utilization Committee, a little-known panel that reviews city leases, requested the administration's final blessing.

"Unfortunately, people just looked for the best real estate deal," Mr. Schmoke said Wednesday. "This doesn't fit with the [police] commissioner's emphasis that it be accessible to the public. The whole idea is to bring internal affairs into the neighborhoods."

Under the proposal, which would have gone into effect Oct. 1, internal affairs planned to move from the headquarters at 601 E. Fayette St. to the sixth floor of Scarlett Place, a couple blocks away.

Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier suggested a new home for the unit after hearing that informants are reluctant to report police brutality for fear of running into the officers at headquarters.

That issue heated up after an uproar over the death of C 30-year-old West Baltimore man in police custody two months ago. A number of witnesses to the death of Jesse Chapman complained about police intimidation.

Also, Commissioner Frazier has expanded the division, adding 10 sergeants to bring it to 35 members.

Maj. Robert C. Novak, the division commander, spent several months looking at office space this summer before settling on Scarlett Place, at 250 S. President St. "I wouldn't have picked it if I didn't think it met my needs and was a reasonable price," he said.

The 7,534-square-foot space, the former home of a radio station, needed almost no renovation, he said. It also came at a good price, an average $12 per square foot, including utilities, maintenance and five parking spaces.

As soon as the proposed lease appeared on a draft agenda, however, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke objected. She said it was a costly, unnecessary move, Arthur Held, head of the Real Estate Department, told the space committee.

Mr. Held and Acting Comptroller Shirley Williams expressed concern at the meeting about the prospect of a city agency moving into what has long been billed as a luxury building.

Mrs. Clarke, who plans to challenge the mayor's bid for a third term next year, said Wednesday, "I was appalled. At a time when we're telling people we don't have enough money for police, we're about to pay $80,000 a year on rent."

Mayor Schmoke denied any political pressures.

He said the lease simply did not make sense because the officers are supposed to be close to neighborhoods.

The Police Department, now on another search for office space, shouldn't have a tough time locating a new home for its internal investigators.

The city's market for Class B offices, is "the softest of them all," said Tim Jackson, director of market research for Casey & Associates.

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