Developer buys site at Locust Pt.

Struever Bros. intends derelict P&G plant for office-retail use

'A wonderful opportunity'

American Can Co. success in Canton spurs hopes of repeat

April 30, 1999|By Kevin L. McQuaid | Kevin L. McQuaid,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore real estate developer credited with resuscitating the American Can Co. complex finalized yesterday the purchase of the derelict Procter & Gamble Co. plant in southern Baltimore, which city officials hope will serve as an anchor to revive economically struggling Locust Point.

Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse Inc.'s plan to convert the former soap-making complex, which has been vacant since September 1995, into $53 million worth of office and retail space could bring as many as 2,000 jobs to an area decimated by the closings of manufacturing plants.

"We have enough of a comfort level with the project at this point, and we think it'll be a wonderful opportunity, and there's been strong market interest, and the community supports it," said Bill Struever, the development company's president.

As part of the plan to renovate the 70-year-old P&G plant, Struever Bros. is hoping to persuade city and state officials to build a long-stalled road extension to the plant from nearby Key Highway.

The $10 million road extension, known as Loop Road, has not received funding from the city or the state. It would connect Key Highway to the plant, at 1422 Nicholson St., and would be elevated at one point 14 to 20 feet over railroad tracks that lead into the adjacent Domino Sugar plant.

"I think it could be an exciting project, but the road extension will be a challenge," said Charles C. Graves, director of the city's Department of Planning. "Given the number of jobs that could be involved, it could provide stability to the area. I'm generally supportive of it, but we still need to know how the community feels about all of the issues, and we need to work with CSX Corp. and others."

Although city officials and Locust Point residents support Loop Road, past attempts to build it have foundered, in part because city planners have disputed its effectiveness, according to public documents.

In 1983, the city's acting transportation coordinator, David W. Chapin, wrote in a memo to colleagues: "I have always wondered whether the complicated truck restrictions on Locust Point streets, necessary to make the loop road work as an alternative to streets within the community, would be effective."

Struever Bros. said the current design of Loop Road is radically different from those of the past. It also contends that the road is critical to the success of the project.

Neighbors support road

Loop Road has cleared one significant hurdle. This month, the Locust Point Civic Association overwhelmingly voted to support Struever Bros.' plans for the 15-acre site and the Planned Unit Development legislation being considered by the City Council. The PUD legislation is contingent on completion of Loop Road.

Attempts to reach Joyce Bauerle, president of the association, were unsuccessful yesterday.

Tuesday, the city's Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals granted Struever Bros.' request to use the P&G plant for office space. Struever Bros. intends to move about 90 workers there from its offices at 519 N. Charles St. and become the complex's first tenant.

The company hopes to have the space ready for occupancy by the end of the year.

"The waterfront aspect of this project makes it tremendous," said David M. Gillece, a vice president and partner of Colliers Pinkard, the Baltimore commercial real estate firm Struever Bros. has retained to lease the space.

"There aren't three sites like this in Baltimore," he said. "This project will be ideal for professional services companies interested in a unique urban design and architectural environment, yet looking for lease rates below those downtown."

Gillece said rents will range from $15 to $20 a square foot.

Other plans failed

Struever Bros.' plan to revitalize the plant is the third since it closed and put 215 people out of work.

In 1996, a South Korean company invested $7 million to buy the plant. It planned to import raw materials and manufacture Soju, a liquor popular in the Far East. But A&E International Ltd.'s plans never materialized, nor did the 250 jobs the company pledged to create.

More recently, GOW International Inc., a Baltimore architectural and engineering company, attempted to convert the plant to office space but was unable to secure financing.

This week, the only life that could be seen at the plant was in the small patch of grass outside, which had grown more than a foot high.

Struever Bros. has a record of reinvigorating old, abandoned buildings by turning them into profitable projects.

It is best known for its $17 million rehabilitation of the American Can Co. plant. An empty five-building industrial complex became headquarters of Dap Inc., a Bibelot bookstore, the Austin Grille restaurant and other stores.

Risks involved

The P&G project, which will be called The Point, involves risks the American Can renovation did not present. Canton was well into a renaissance by the time the stores and offices there opened, for example. The P&G plant stands in the middle of an aging residential neighborhood.

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