City officials approved a real estate deal yesterday that could eventually lead to the transformation of the historic Chase's Wharf site in Fells Point into the Inner Harbor's first interactive museum to repair historic ships.
The Board of Estimates approved a land swap in which Constellation Real Estate Group will convey Chase's Wharf, a warehouse dating to the 1840s, to the city in exchange for a city-owned parcel on the east side of Caroline Street between Thames and Lancaster streets.
The city is expected to close the deal within 45 days, then transfer the waterfront property, through a lease or other method, to the nonprofit Living Classrooms Foundation, which would develop the $3 million Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park.
"The park will be a place where people learn about African-American maritime history," said James Bond, Living Classrooms president.
Douglass, the former Talbot County slave and ardent abolitionist, lived in Fells Point for nine years and worked at times as a ship's caulker.
In 1868, Myers became the first black man to own a marine railway, a track that transports vessels from water to land and back. Myers' Chesapeake Marine Railway and Dry Dock Co. employed as many as 300 workers -- both black and white.
Maritime park seen
Bond is talking with city housing officials, trying to work out a deal that would allow Living Classrooms to renovate Chase's Wharf as part of the maritime park project.
The historic building, a 12,000-square-foot structure that was extensively damaged in a 1993 fire, occupies the western end of a 12-acre parcel at 1401 Thames St.
If Bond is able to cut a deal with the city and the agreement is approved by the Board of Estimates, the maritime park could be operational by 1999, Bond said. City officials said they expect the proposal to be approved.
Bond's vision for the park: an interactive museum, classrooms and possibly a coffeehouse.
According to Bond, the maritime park would give youths the opportunity to work side by side with experienced shipwrights and could attract as many as 500,000 people annually. But funding has not been secured.
Corporate sponsors needed
After the meeting, he announced that his group -- which provides education and employment training for young people -- would immediately begin looking for corporate sponsors for the $3 million project. The Abell Foundation has agreed to contribute $50,000 for a statue of Douglass, Bond said.
Under the agreement approved yesterday, Constellation will turn over 1 acre to the city along with rights to 1.75 acres underwater. In exchange, the company will acquire about 1.5 acres -- just less than 1 acre now, and then about a half-acre if the city's realignment of South Caroline Street is completed by July 1, 2015.
"This is a win-win situation for everyone -- the city, the community and Constellation," Constellation Assistant Vice President Kent Johnson said at the meeting yesterday.
He added that Constellation, a subsidiary of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., plans to combine the property it acquired from the city with land it owns in the area so it can develop the site. For now, it will be used as a parking lot, Johnson said, declining to elaborate on plans.
"This is an enlightened move," said Robert C. Keith, chairman of the parking and transportation committee of the Fells Point Homeowners Association, which in March had opposed Constellation's original proposal. "It opens the way to an exciting redevelopment of the Fells Point waterfront."
Pub Date: 5/22/97