Clayworks to get nuns' old building

Gift: St. Paul Cos. will donate the historic former Provincial House in Mount Washington as "a way to be a good neighbor."

April 27, 1999|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

The historic Mount Washington building that formerly housed the Sisters of Mercy will be donated to the Baltimore Clayworks by St. Paul Cos. Inc. as the company marks the first anniversary of its merger with USF&G Corp.

The company said it does not need the Provincial House building, which has an estimated value of about $700,000 and has been vacant for about 1 1/2 years.

Trying to sell it to a commercial organization could have raised zoning issues and caused more trouble than it was worth, Executive Vice President John A. MacColl, who heads the company's Baltimore operations, said yesterday.

In addition to the gift of the building, the company said it donated $2.2 million to nonprofit organizations in Baltimore last year and plans to give $2 million this year.

"As we looked around, Baltimore Clayworks represented the focus of things we think are important strategically in terms of corporate giving," said Chief Executive Officer and Chairman Douglas W. Leatherdale, who was in Baltimore to visit employees in conjunction with the merger anniversary.

"It fit very well for us, and the merchants need a few more parking spaces, so it's a way to be a good neighbor and another way to solidify our relationship with the Baltimore community," Leatherdale said.

The company has stipulated that at least 40 of the 70 spaces in the building's parking lot be set aside for use by patrons of Mount Washington businesses.

USF&G acquired the building when it purchased the 70-acre Sisters of Mercy campus in the early 1980s. The company allowed the nuns to continue operating the Mount Saint Agnes Theological Center for Women in the 116-year-old stone building.

The nuns operated rent-free from 1992 until 1997 when the company evicted them, thinking it would use the building for expanded operations.

"After the merger, we stepped back and looked at other ways to use the building," MacColl said.

The announcement coincides with today's first anniversary of the merger between St. Paul, based in St. Paul, Minn., and USF&G -- a relationship that brought more than 1,000 job cuts in Baltimore.

News of the gift came at a very opportune time, said Deborah W. Bedwell, Baltimore Clayworks' executive director. The nonprofit ceramic arts center was planning to build an addition to its building -- a former library -- but now will either scrap or scale back those plans.

"This solves a lot of problems for everyone," Bedwell said.

The new site will likely house a gallery, teaching space and a meeting room, she said. Architects and space planners will tour the building in early May to decide how best to design the renovations.

The state legislature recently approved a $500,000 grant -- which still needs approval from Gov. Parris N. Glendening -- to Baltimore Clayworks to help cover construction costs related to the planned addition.

Bedwell said the organization will ask state officials to allow the money to be used for renovation of Provincial House instead.

In January, St. Paul announced a 36 percent decline in earnings for its fourth quarter.

Profit from operations, excluding gains from investment sales and special charges, fell to $133.5 million, or 53 cents a share, from $206.9 million, or 82 cents, in the fourth quarter of 1997.

The "bad year" was due to costs related to the USF&G acquisition, a high number of storm-related claims in the Midwest and a soft insurance market, said David M. Monfried, vice president of corporate communications.

Pub Date: 4/27/99

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