Buildings get new lease on life as shops, offices

January 05, 1995|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writer

Owning large commercial or industrial properties -- sites that have been abandoned by single tenants -- doesn't have to be a liability, say Carroll County business owners who are subdividing vacant buildings into office and retail space.

Buildings such as the former Coca-Cola bottling plant on Old Westminster Pike and the former J.C. Penney department store at Main and John streets -- both in Westminster -- have proved suitable for small users as diverse as a basket sales outlet, government offices and exercise studios.

Similar plans have surfaced in the past year for commercial and industrial buildings in Taneytown and the old firehouse in Sykesville.

"It's hard to do new commercial buildings," said David Max, president of the Winchester Exchange Limited Partnership, which owns the former J.C. Penney building and one building in the former Sherwood Distillery complex.

The J.C. Penney property, which will be known as Winchester Exchange II, is being renovated and should be open by May 1, Mr. Max said.

"It's not cost effective to [design and build] new buildings," he said. "People are taking existing buildings and changing the use. There's a need for it, a need that has to be filled."

The same requirements also exist for small industrial tenants, said John T. "Jack" Lyburn Jr., Carroll's economic development director.

"A lot of start-up companies need 1,000 to 2,000 square feet of space," Mr. Lyburn said, noting that many of the county's industrial buildings range from 25,000 square feet to 30,000 square feet.

Rose DiFonzo, the owner of Mayberry Sales, a gift basket business in the former Coca-Cola bottling plant, says that the subdivision of a larger building met her needs perfectly.

About a year ago, she moved from the industrial park near the Congoleum plant in Finksburg to her current location. Both properties are owned by businessman Emerson Bair.

Not only does the Westminster site provide her with 2,000 square feet of storefront space, but the solid masonry walls and floors that formerly housed two stories of bottling equipment impressed her insurance agent, who gave her a slight discount, Ms. DiFonzo said.

"He [Mr. Bair] took this building and made it a useful thing," Ms. DiFonzo said of the property she shares with a Jazzercise studio, a car detailing shop and several other tenants.

"There are offices and stores here, and people can afford the rent," she said. "He treats the customers like equal individuals with unique purposes."

However, unlike Mr. Max, who deals only in commercial properties, Mr. Bair's entrance into retail and office leasing came almost by accident.

"The reason we got into the Coke facility was that we wanted the land for the sports complex," Mr. Bair said, referring to the Carroll Indoor Sports Complex that now sits behind the former Coke plant, just east of Route 97.

"We couldn't find a user for the entire facility. There's not that many large users around any more."

Subdivision requires coordinating efforts among many Carroll County government departments and is often expensive, Mr. Bair said.

And renovation and subdivision are not cost-effective for all buildings, said Mr. Lyburn.

For example, the former Telemecanique building in Finksburg, owned by Mr. Bair's brother, Glenn, an partner in Development Company of America, would better serve one large user because it only has two loading docks.

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