A decrepit symbol of Baltimore's maritime heritage would be turned over to the city and restored for public use, if the Schmoke administration accepts a proposal from the owners.
Chase's Wharf, an 1840s-era warehouse at 1401 Thames St. in Fells Point, is the historic building that would be conveyed to the city by Constellation Real Estate Group, a Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. subsidiary.
Constellation has offered to swap the building and surrounding land for several city-owned parcels on the east side of Caroline Street between Thames and Lancaster streets.
Constellation wants to combine those properties with land it owns in the same area so it can construct a parking garage for Fells Point visitors, including patrons of its Brown's Wharf retail and office complex.
The three-story Chase's Wharf building, also known as the Sugar House, occupies the western end of a 12-acre parcel.
At the center of Baltimore's maritime activities for more than a century but vacant in recent years, it was heavily damaged by a fire Oct. 30, 1993. Constellation officials spent $45,000 to stabilize it and have been working with community representatives to develop a preservation plan.
During a community meeting this month, Kent Johnson, Constellation assistant vice president, said his company has been unable to find a tenant that would justify a full restoration and suggested the city may have more success. He said he is concerned that the building cannot last another winter unless it gets a new roof.
Constellation offered to turn over 1 acre to the city along with riparian rights to 1.75 acres under water. It is seeking to acquire slightly more than 2 acres.
The swap would benefit both sides, Mr. Johnson said.
"I think the [Chase's Wharf] property offers a whole series of opportunities for the city," he said. But "it's not all generosity on our part. It works for us, too."
One idea that Constellation has suggested is for the city to allow Chase's Wharf and the surrounding property to be used by the Living Classrooms Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides hands-on education and employment training for young people.
The 10-year-old foundation already occupies the old Center Dock, two blocks north of Chase's Wharf. Its Maritime Institute brings young people together with shipwrights so they can learn how to build and repair traditional vessels, such as skipjacks.
The foundation also is developing Frederick Douglass Park and Marine Railway, a $550,000 project planned for the waterfront near Thames and Philpot streets, just west of Chase's Wharf.
James Bond, Living Classrooms executive director, said the foundation would like to restore Chase's Wharf in conjunction with the marine railway, which will be used to transport vessels from water to land and back. He said Chase's Wharf would be an ideal setting for boat repair work.
"We have an opportunity to do something great here," he said. But "if we're going to undertake this restoration, we need to know the community is behind it."
Amy Glorioso, housing department project planner, said the city likes the idea of letting the Living Classrooms Foundation occupy Chase's Wharf but needs to evaluate it and hold more community meetings before a decision.
The idea drew favorable response from community representatives at last week's briefing.
"It's a wonderful idea," said William R. Blank, senior project manager for Allied Signal, owner of a 27.4-acre parcel nearby. The foundation "is one of the few nonprofit entities that has the ability to raise the funds needed to get this going."
It would bring activity to an area that's now dormant, said Romaine Somerville, executive director of the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point. "I couldn't be more pleased that something is happening. It's almost a dream."
A civic use is probably the best hope for saving Chase's Wharf, Mr. Johnson said.
"Traditional uses don't work in the building, but to the extent that the Living Classrooms Foundation could use it as part of its education program, we think it's a good opportunity," he said. "We're anxious for it to move forward."