Chase's Wharf's future may hinge on city deal Warehouse owner wants to trade it for parcels

March 07, 1997|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

A languishing symbol of Baltimore's maritime heritage may soon be demolished if the owner of the property is unable to cut a land deal with the city by the end of the month.

Chase's Wharf, an 1840s-era warehouse in Fells Point, is the historic building that Constellation Real Estate Group wants to convey to the city in exchange for several city-owned parcels on the east side of Caroline Street, between Thames and Lancaster streets.

Constellation, a subsidiary of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., wants to combine those properties with land it owns in the area so it can develop the site. The company's proposal was made two years ago.

"The timetable for the land swap proposal to be approved is coming to a close," said Constellation Assistant Vice President Kent Johnson. "If we don't get an answer by the end of the month, we'll have to take back the proposal and consider other options."

Those options would include demolition of Chase's Wharf, Johnson said.

At a meeting of the Fells Point Homeowners Association on Wednesday, Johnson said his company has been unable to find a tenant that would justify a full restoration of the three-story building. Constellation has spent $45,000 to stabilize it.

Chase's Wharf, also known as the Sugar House, occupies the western end of a 12-acre parcel at 1401 Thames St. Constellation is offering to turn over an acre to the city along with riparian rights to 1.75 acres under water. In exchange, the company is seeking to acquire slightly more than 2 acres.

"We think this would be a win-win situation for everyone -- the city, the community and Constellation," Johnson said.

He has suggested the city allow Chase's Wharf and the surrounding property to be used by the Living Classrooms Foundation, a nonprofit group that provides hands-on education and employment training for young people.

Living Classrooms is developing Frederick Douglass Park and Marine Railway, a $550,000 project planned for the waterfront near Philpot and Thames streets, west of Chase's Wharf.

James Bond, Living Classrooms executive director, said his organization would like to restore the Sugar House in conjunction with the marine railway, a track system that would pull boats out of the water for repairs, then transport them back to the bay.

"This site could provide wonderful opportunities for our young people," said Bond, who suggested that Chase's Wharf would be an ideal setting for boat repair.

"But if things get too controversial, we won't get involved," Bond said, alluding to recent opposition by some residents who fear the deal will give Constellation complete control over off-street parking areas in Fells Point. "We don't want to be in the middle of a heated debate."

Meanwhile, the city must decide within three weeks whether it will accept Constellation's proposal.

"We're getting very close to making a decision," said Catherine C. Caskey, development director for the Department of Housing and Community Development, the agency reviewing Constellation's proposal.

Caskey said the city may offer a counterproposal soon, but would not disclose details.

"All I can say is that we're still in negotiations," she said.

Pub Date: 3/07/97

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