Seeing Bagby in a different light Conversion: A new look ZTC and a second chance for the rundown former furniture showroom at Fleet and Exeter streets is in the making.

Urban Landscape

March 12, 1998|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

BYE, BYE, Bagby.

By year's end, if all goes according to plan, the old furniture company showroom at Fleet and Exeter streets will be transformed into downtown Baltimore's newest office complex.

The $12 million conversion is the latest project of Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, a local construction and development firm that has led the effort to recycle the American Can Co. complex on Boston Street and other city landmarks, and Sylvan Learning Systems.

"We've moving forward," developer C. William Struever said yesterday. "We expect to be finished by the last week in December."

Struever and Sylvan have a contract to purchase the four-story building by the end of this month, and they hope to begin construction 60 days after the sale goes through, said Caroline Moore, director of commercial development for Struever Bros.

"This is [a] historic redevelopment of a building that has been a blight on the community for ages, and two companies have chosen to move there," Moore said. "I think it really bodes well for the city. It's going to mean 300 more jobs in the area."

The project was stalled after one partner in the development team ran into financial difficulties.

Michael W. Lasky, founder of Inphomation Communications Inc., the "Psychic Friends Network" operation that filed for bankruptcy court protection last month, was going to be a financial partner in the project. Struever Bros. was going to be the developer with Sylvan, and Struever was going to be the general contractor.

But Lasky is no longer part of the team. "It's the same project," Struever said. "It's just not the same money partner."

The building was constructed in 1901 for Bagby, which began business on Howard Street as Bagby and Rivers in 1880. It manufactured residential furniture that was distributed across the East Coast.

When the company closed in 1990, it was part of a wave of longtime furniture retailers that went out of business in Baltimore, including Fallon & Helen on Mulberry Street and C. H. Lear's of Howard Street. A previous plan to convert the building to apartments met with community opposition and didn't move ahead.

The building contains more than 100,000 square feet of space and features sweeping views of the harbor. The prospective owners say its space is 100 percent committed to two companies.

Eisner & Associates, an advertising agency based in Mount Vernon, is expected to occupy the second and third floors and half of the first.

Caliber Learning Network Inc., an adult-education affiliate of Sylvan, is expected to occupy the fourth floor and half of the first.

Started in November 1996 by Sylvan and MCI Communications Corp., Caliber is establishing a graduate-level learning and professional training distribution network across the United States to serve universities, major corporations and working adults.

Gensler, a nationally prominent architecture firm, is the project architect. Steve Eisner, president of the advertising firm that bears his name, said he considered a number of top architects, including Robert Venturi, and found Gensler's approach most in keeping with his vision for the agency.

The city of Baltimore has indicated that it will support the project by creating a parking deck nearby for 271 cars. Baltimore's Board of Estimates is scheduled to open bids this month from contractors vying to build the garage at Central Avenue and Bank Street.

One change to the building's brick exterior will be the removal of colorful painted letters that spell out Bagby Furniture on the west and south sides. The original black and white letters on the east side will remain.

Struever said the team plans to restore the exterior in compliance with federal standards for historic preservation, so the project will qualify for preservation tax credits.

California architect to discuss his work

California-based architect Thom Mayne of Morphosis will discuss his work in a lecture at the Baltimore Museum of Art at 6: 30 p.m. Wednesday. Tickets cost $10 for the lecture, $5 for seniors and students with identification. Information: American Institute of Architects, 410-625-2585.

Pub Date: 3/12/98

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