Ad agency seeks old warehouse in Little Italy for its offices Sale and renovations expected to cost Eisner $9 million

February 07, 1997|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

The former Bagby Furniture Co. warehouse in Little Italy would be transformed into a "communications factory" housing Baltimore's second largest advertising agency and a sound studio in a deal expected to close in about a month.

Eisner & Associates Inc. is negotiating to buy the mostly vacant warehouse at Fleet and Exeter streets and move its 85-person headquarters from Mount Vernon by early 1998, agency President Steve Eisner said yesterday.

The agency, with more than $100 million in billings and clients such as Black & Decker and Helix Health System, has outgrown quarters in a block-long brownstone on West Madison Street over the last few years.

The agency became even more squeezed for space last year after forming Lighthouse Studios, a film and video production subsidiary that also designs Internet web sites.

"We were not interested in being in a skyscraper towering over the city," Eisner said. "We wanted to be connected to a community in a unique space that has the character of Baltimore.

"At one time, this was an industrial city, and we wanted to hold onto that notion and apply it to the world of communications and build what we're calling a communications factory. If all the elements come together, it's tailor-made for our vision."

The agency, under contract to buy the building from developer Patrick Turner, is in negotiations over price and conditions such as parking and financial assistance, Eisner said. Plans call for Eisner to use about half of the 89,000-square-foot warehouse and lease the remaining space to a single tenant.

Eisner has had preliminary discussions with Sylvan Learning Systems, a Baltimore-based educational services company. Sylvan had moved its headquarters from Columbia in November to the first office tower in the emerging Inner Harbor East, an area next to Little Italy slated for commercial, residential and retail growth.

The fast-growing Sylvan, already facing a space crunch, is considering the Bagby building among other options, including leasing space in the next commercial tower built in Inner Harbor East or renting space elsewhere on a short-term basis, said Douglas Becker, Sylvan CEO.

"Our growth rate has exceeded our expectations," Becker said yesterday. "As a result, our current space will not be sufficient for more than six months to a year."

Plans to transform Bagby hinge on the buyer's ability to secure financial assistance -- for a project estimated at more than $9 million in purchase and renovation costs -- and parking that can accommodate 300 employees.

Parking has long been at a premium in Little Italy, with residents, workers and visitors to the many restaurants competing for spots.

Members of the Little Italy Community Organization have lobbied for years for a multilevel parking garage at President, Pratt, Albemarle and Stiles streets on lots owned by the city and a private businessman.

Now, many fear their efforts could be undermined by the proposed warehouse redevelopment. The community organization is opposed to another proposal to build a garage on Bank Street.

"Eisner doesn't have the parking that he needs, so he expects that somebody will provide him a special parking lot for his convenience," said Roberto Marsili, president of the LICO group.

"We've been here 75 years and pay taxes on top of taxes and nobody gives us anything. Suddenly somebody new comes along and he wants parking provided."

Eisner, who has presented his agency's plans to three separate community groups, said:

"We're rooting for the same thing. We were seeing eye to eye pretty much on every issue. What they see with an Eisner and another large tenant is an infusion of daytime business and new energy in this Harbor East area."

Tensions between the community and the Bagby owner go back to an earlier proposal to turn the warehouse into apartments that would have included some subsidized housing.

The LICO group is in the middle of a lawsuit with Turner over those plans.

Pub Date: 2/07/97

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