City weighs new police offices site

March 02, 1995|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore is considering buying a soon-to-be-vacant bank operations center to house some Police Department offices as an alternative to building a headquarters annex -- a move that could save the city at least $5 million.

City officials are considering the Signet Bank Operations Center and an adjacent parking garage at 210-220 Guilford Ave., about five blocks from police headquarters. The building is on the market for $3.9 million.

To give police officials time to study the new site, the Board of Estimates yesterday delayed for two weeks a decision on whether to approve $10.8 million in financing for construction of the annex. The city has spent $1.7 million on the design of the annex and reconfiguration of the headquarters building; the annex groundbreaking had tentatively been set for July.

"It's worth taking a look at rather than moving further on the annex," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said of the Signet center. "Since there's no shovel in the ground, we haven't reached the point of no return."

Mr. Schmoke said he did not know the Signet building was available until Tuesday, when acting Comptroller Shirley A. Williams suggested it as a possible alternative.

The mayor also said he needed to talk to Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier about splitting police operations between two sites.

"It'll be an important consideration," Mr. Schmoke said of the commissioner's opinion. But he said, "Five million dollars is also an important consideration."

Police spokesman Sam Ringgold said Mr. Frazier did not learn that the Signet center was under consideration until yesterday morning and would reserve judgment until he could examine the building.

"He has some concerns about splitting up the department from an operational standpoint," Mr. Ringgold said. "But he said he'll take a look at it."

Ms. Williams said city real estate officials believe the building could be easily adapted for the Police Department. "But we're not police officers," she said.

The Signet center consists of a five-story building with 100,000 square feet of office space, the same size as the planned police department annex, and a three-story garage with room for 330 cars.

Signet has been relocating employees from the Guilford Avenue center to locations downtown and in Columbia, and should be out of the building by July or August, said Thomas R. Hearn, senior vice president for MacKenzie/O'Conor, Piper & Flynn, the listing agent for the property.

In 1988-1989, the banking company did a "complete renovation" of the property, which is about 25 years old, he said.

Two years ago, Mr. Schmoke announced that the city had decided to build an annex and renovate the police headquarters, which has ventilation problems and is crowded.

The $32 million cost of the project was millions of dollars less than other options considered at the time -- building a headquarters on another site or moving to the old Hecht Co. department store on Howard Street.

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