Building seen as lure for business

Half of space leased at former GE plant set for renovations

April 28, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Like the transformation of the proverbial ugly duckling, a Pennsylvania company is changing a huge, gray, 600,000-square-foot industrial building in Columbia's Gateway corporate park into a sparkling concrete-and-glass office and warehouse complex.

The last of the former General Electric appliance manufacturing plants built in Columbia in the 1970s, the building will draw hundreds more office workers to the fast-growing corporate park along Route 175 between Snowden River Parkway and Interstate 95.

More than 12,000 office workers work at Gateway, and many are being added as buildings are completed.

"The employment population in Gateway will more than double in the next 18 months," said Ed Ely, vice president and director of business land sales and marketing for Howard Research and Development, a Rouse Co. affiliate that developed Gateway and Columbia.

Interior work at the former GE building -- which includes rebuilding concrete floors, installing heating and air conditioning, and building office space -- is expected to be completed by fall, with full occupancy possible by summer 2000.

The structure has been renamed the Renaissance at Columbia Gateway building by Preferred Real Estate Investments Inc., its new owner. About half of the building's space is spoken for, said partner Joseph T. Corcoran. Its occupants are as varied as Earth Treks Climbing Center, which has a 44-foot-high, indoor rock-climbing wall, and Howard County's Social Services offices, which occupy about 30,000 square feet.

Alpharma USPD Inc., a pharmaceutical company that occupies 164,000 square feet of the warehouse space for its distribution center, has agreed to lease an additional 36,000 square feet for 10 years. Director Joel Sokol is excited about the major changes being made to the building. "It's going to be neat," he said.

Games staged

Science Applications International owns a 92,000-square-foot building across the street and has signed a lease for 50,000 square feet of office space in Renaissance, Corcoran said. A current tenant is Volley Ball House, a recreational firm that uses the roomy warehouse to stage evening and weekend games.

Plenty of room exists for more tenants, Corcoran said. The building, with three levels of about 100,000 square feet each, can be attractive to large businesses, said Richard W. Story, executive director of Howard County's Economic Development Authority.

"For the Economic Development Authority it means more inventory," Story said, explaining that Gateway's "problem" has been that office space can't be built fast enough for prospective tenants who are drawn to its location near I-95 and Baltimore-Washington International Airport. The Renaissance building, Story said, has enough land around it for parking -- 2,000 spaces -- or expansion.

$60 million cost

Corcoran said his company specializes in renovating older structures. "We acquire existing sites that most often are an aesthetic blemish in the community but also aren't contributing to the economic welfare," he said.

Lawrence A. Doyle, Corcoran's partner, said the project will cost about $60 million. The renovation includes transforming the gray metal exterior into precast concrete, adding large windows, repaving the parking lots and landscaping the 30-acre property.

What will happen inside the building is more important, Corcoran and others say. When the work is complete and the space is leased, 1,500 people could work there, compared with the several hundred employees of the four current occupants.

Pub Date: 4/28/99

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