Bank building transformation set Restoration: The former National Mechanics' Bank is targeted for a $3 million makeover.

Urban Landscape

August 20, 1998|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

ONE OF BALTIMORE'S oldest bank buildings will soon be transformed into the city's newest, first-class office center.

The former home of National Mechanics' Bank, a 1904 building at 222 E. Redwood St., has been acquired by a Maryland partnership that plans to invest $3 million over the next seven months to restore its exterior and upgrade its interior to attract new tenants.

The renovation is planned by Southwood Holdings Corp. of Baltimore County, headed by Harold T. Rubin and Alvin W. Shevitz. Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse is the development manager and general contractor, and Cho, Wilks and Benn is the architect.

"We're going to bring it back to its glory days," Rubin said of the building, during a recent tour. "We don't think there's a nicer block in the city, for commerce or finance."

The project is the latest in a series of renovations planned for historic buildings in Baltimore's financial district, including the former Alex. Brown & Sons headquarters at Calvert and Baltimore streets, the American Building at South and Baltimore streets, and the former Baltimore Commercial Bank headquarters at 26 South St.

This will be the first building renovation in Baltimore by Southwood, which has developed property in Baltimore County and Delaware.

Rubin and Shevitz said they recently sold a business in Delaware and were looking for investment properties to buy when they "fell in love" with the Redwood Street building.

They said they were attracted by its location, its history and what's happening around it. The seven-story building at Redwood and South streets is three blocks from Harborplace and within walking distance of several properties where new projects are planned, including a $124 million Westin Hotel at 300 E. Pratt St. and a $100 million office and hotel complex at One Light Street.

The building is part of a historic district, which makes the development team eligible for tax credits for historic preservation.

Rubin and Shevitz said they have followed revitalization efforts downtown and felt the time was right to invest in the city.

"We're Baltimore boys. We were born and raised in the city, and we want to see it come back," Shevitz said.

"We want to be part of the renaissance," Rubin added.

Designed by Taylor and Knowles of New York, the building had one story, a mezzanine and a basement when it was constructed shortly after the 1904 fire that destroyed much of the financial district. The main space was a large banking floor with an ornate domed ceiling.

A new owner altered the building in 1929 by adding three stories. It was further altered in the 1980s, with the insertion of two more floors between existing levels -- a new second floor and a new seventh floor.

Rubin and Shevitz said they acquired the building in May for $500,000 from Meisel and Cohen Properties. It is mostly vacant.

"It's a gorgeous building," Shevitz said. "It's a little dusty and dirty around the edges. We're talking about turning it from what was a B minus-C plus property to a Class A building with all the features that any law firm or other business would want -- in the heart of the business district, near the harbor, on a quiet, quaint street."

For many years, Redwood Street was the center of Baltimore's financial district, Rubin noted. "Our interest is in bringing it back the way it was."

Southwood's plan to renovate an older building for continued office use is "a great endorsement of the turnaround in the local economy and recognition of the underlying opportunities in downtown Baltimore," said contractor C. William Struever.

The Redwood Street project is also a "a wonderful statement in support of historic preservation," Struever said. "Redwood Street is full of wonderful historic buildings, and we need to find new ways to bring them back to life. This can be a great signature office building for somebody."

The owners expect to have 28,361 rentable square feet on seven levels. Rubin said he thinks the first level could accommodate an upscale restaurant or office tenants, and the upper floors could house one or more additional office tenants.

Besides restoring the large bronze doors on Redwood Street and the stone facade, the owners plan to give the building a new barrier-free entrance and lobby. They've arranged to provide parking for tenants within several blocks of the building, and are willing to rename it after the lead tenant.

Miller Corporate Real Estate Services is the broker, and First Mariner Bank is the construction lender. Work is scheduled to begin next month and be substantially complete by March 1.

"When the scaffolding goes up and work begins, I think there's going to be an awful lot of interest in the building," Shevitz said.

Pub Date: 8/20/98

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