Harbor West parcel chosen Lutheran aid agencies to build headquarters at vacant Light St. site

January 01, 1998|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

One of the last available development sites around Baltimore's Inner Harbor has been selected as the future setting for the international headquarters of Lutheran World Relief and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, two nonprofit organizations that are moving from New York.

The site is a vacant lot on the west side of the 700 block of Light St., near Key Highway, in the Inner Harbor West urban renewal area. The land is owned by Christ Lutheran Church, whose sanctuary is one block west at 701 S. Charles St.

The Lutheran organizations intend to lease the land from the church and begin construction this spring on a headquarters building that will open next year, according to Stephen Tepperman, a principal of Kelly, Legan & Gerard Inc., a business location strategist that has been working with Lutheran World Relief.

Plans are at a preliminary stage, and Tepperman declined to discuss design details.

Others familiar with the project say it is expected to cost about $6 million, contain about 40,000 square feet and rise six to eight stories, with at least 10 to 15 parking spaces underground.

It is being designed by Gwathmey Siegel & Associates of New York -- an internationally prominent firm that has worked for such clients as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Harvard University and Walt Disney Co. -- and Marks, Thomas and Associates of Baltimore.

When the groups announced in February that they plan to move from New York to Baltimore, bringing about 60 to 70 jobs to the area, they did not say where they would move.

Tepperman said the organizations have evaluated a variety of options, such as leasing space in existing buildings, and decided the best plan would be to construct their own building on Light Street.

He said the most important reason for choosing the Inner Harbor parcel is "the synergy with the church and the community" in South Baltimore.

Because the church will allow the nonprofit groups to use its meeting space and other facilities, he explained, the building won't have to be as large as it would in another location. The parking spaces that will be provided for office employees will be available to churchgoers on weekends.

Lutheran World Relief is a joint operation of the 5.2-million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which has 2.6 million members.

With 25 employees and an annual budget of $19.3 million, LWR operates and funds development and relief efforts in 50 countries, from Armenia and Azerbaijan to Rwanda and Zaire.

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service was started in 1939 to resettle immigrants in the United States after they fled the Nazis. It broadened its mission and has helped 250,000 people begin new lives in the United States, including refugees from Bosnia, the Sudan, Somalia, Cuba and Iraq.

In addition to the New York organizations, the inter-Lutheran center will be home for at least two other Lutheran offices, the Maryland-Delaware Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, based at 7604 York Road; and the local office of Tressler Lutheran Service, a social service agency based in Mechanicsburg, Pa.

With 1,200 members, Christ Lutheran Church has one of the largest Lutheran congregations in the area. It has been in its current location for 110 years, and its church dates from 1955.

The headquarters building will be owned and constructed by Lutheran Center Corp., an organization consisting of representatives of Lutheran World Relief and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

The Rev. John R. Sabatelli, pastor of Christ Lutheran Church, said the church has agreed to lease the 13,000-square-foot Light Street parcel to Lutheran Center Corp. for 100 years for $1 a year.

The 700 block of Light St. once contained rowhouses. Sabatelli said the church has owned it since the 1950s and has kept it available for development that would help the church and the city.

"We were always waiting for the right thing," he said. "We were not in a hurry. But when this came along, this was the right thing -- for the church, the city and the community."

For Baltimore, he said, the headquarters will bring new jobs and advance the city's goal of being a center for nonprofit organizations.

For the church and the immediate community, he said, the building promises to help improve the appearance of a key corner of the Inner Harbor and draw people who might move nearby -- and might want to join the church.

The building will be the first in Baltimore by Charles Gwathmey and Robert Siegel, whose high-profile projects include a number of additions to well-known landmarks.

Their work includes a high-rise addition to Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum in New York; an addition to Harvard's University's Fogg Museum in Cambridge, Mass.; and an addition to the University of Washington's Henry Art Museum in Seattle. Gwathmey and Siegel also planned the recent conversion of a B. Altman's department store in Manhattan to a public library.

Marks Thomas is a 30-year-old Baltimore firm that has designed a wide range of buildings, including much of Charlestown, Oak ** Crest Village and other continuing-care retirement communities of developer John Erickson.

Baltimore's Architectural Review Board is scheduled to see preliminary plans for the unnamed Lutheran center Jan. 8. Planners will meet with community representatives and others shortly after that, Tepperman said.

Pub Date: 1/01/98

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