Mercantile building to get face lift New owner will seek tenants for facility

September 11, 1997|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

The former Mercantile-Safe Deposit and Trust Co. building at Calvert and Redwood streets -- the oldest building in Baltimore's central business district to survive the Great Fire of 1904 -- will receive a face lift next year from a new owner aiming to revitalize it and find tenants.

Brad Tavel, vice president for development of the company that owns the 1886 building, told members of Baltimore's Architectural Review Board last week that he recently sought proposals from contractors for the job of cleaning and repairing the exterior.

Tavel added that a number of groups have expressed interest in occupying the vacant building since his company, the Orion Group, bought it several months ago.

He said the groups range from traditional commercial office tenants and national associations in search of a headquarters site to food service- and entertainment-oriented businesses such as restaurants and nightclubs.

"I am confident that there is a user in the market that is looking for unique and special building, whether it be for an association headquarters or an entertainment use," he said. "There are a myriad of specialty users in the market, and it's a beautiful building."

Designed in the Richardsonian Romanesque style by Wyatt and Sperry, the building at 202 E. Redwood St. is considered one of the most significant works of architecture in downtown Baltimore. It is notable for its arched windows, carved stonework and massive, castle-like walls that helped it survive the fire.

It has been vacant since Mercantile closed its branch there in 1993 and its mortgage department moved out the next year.

Tavel said the exterior work is likely to include cleaning the brick surface, repairing gutters and downspouts, painting trim and replacing windows.

He said Orion will consult representatives of the Maryland Historical Trust and other agencies to make sure its contractors follow procedures appropriate for an historic building.

"We want to make sure we do it right the first time," he said.

He added that he would like to have the contractors identified and materials ordered in time for work to begin next spring. The scope and pace of additional work, he said, will depend on the tenants and their timetables.

Other downtown commercial buildings that have been restored in recent years include the former Baltimore Commercial Bank headquarters at 26 South St., headquarters for the Scanlan & Rosen law firm, and the old Alex. Brown headquarters on Baltimore Street, which will reopen this fall as a branch of Chevy Chase Bank.

While Orion seeks a tenant for the Mercantile building, it is moving ahead with plans to demolish two nearby structures, the former USF&G Corp. buildings at 131 E. Redwood St. and 26 S. Calvert St.

Orion wants to replace them with one large building containing nine levels of parking topped by six levels of office space.

Preservationists contend that the building at 131 E. Redwood is architecturally significant and should be preserved, though it has not been designated a city landmark.

Orion representatives argue that a 500-car garage is needed to serve occupants of many of the office buildings along Redwood Street that have no parking on the premises, and the office space they would create.

"One of the benefits of the garage is that it will lend support to surrounding properties," Tavel said. "There's a keen desire for parking in the area. It will really serve a number of needs."

M. J. "Jay" Brodie, president of Baltimore Development Corp., said he conducted an informal survey of the area and is satisfied that Orion's property is the best size and location for a garage, if one must be built.

"I think it's unavoidable," he said. "We're living in the age of automobiles. If there is going to be a garage on Redwood Street, this is the best place to put it."

Pub Date: 9/11/97

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