Pace of gentrification accelerates at harbor

Locust Point: Redevelopment of Procter & Gamble plant is swan song for more industrial shoreline.

May 03, 1999

TWELVE YEARS ago, the City Council made a last-ditch effort to save some of Baltimore's vanishing blue-collar jobs. Hoping to keep Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola and Southern States' farm supply operation in Locust Point, the council decreed that only industrial uses would be tolerated along major portions of the waterfront.

Today, those once-mighty employers are gone from South Baltimore. Yet that portion of the shoreline has glittering prospects.

Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse Inc. hopes to take advantage of the vacant Procter & Gamble plant's water views by reconstructing it as a $53 million office and retail complex. An anchor tenant will be the construction firm itself.

Over the past 25 years, Struever Bros. has carved a niche for itself refashioning abandoned industrial buildings into profitable uses. Last year, the firm redeveloped Canton's American Can Co. It also had a hand in the reconstruction of the Inner Harbor's Power Plant. There is every reason to believe its new Locust Point complex, slated to employ 2,000, will be equally successful.

The Locust Point waterfront still has important industrial users, including Domino Sugar Co. and a railroad yard. But the conversion of the P&G plant, along with the planned extension of Key Highway all the way to the Maryland Port Authority's North Locust Point terminal, would accelerate the area's industrial gentrification. Instead of Ivory and Tide, computers and espresso seem to be in Locust Point's future. If that happens, major change also could come to neighboring residential streets near Fort McHenry.

Locust Point has gone through many changes. At the height of European immigration before World War I, it ranked as the No. 2 entry point into the nation, right after Ellis Island. Many residents worked for ship lines or railroads, including the B & O's giant grain elevators. Other key employers included fertilizer and paint pigment plants.

When the Procter & Gamble plant opened in 1930, it was a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility capable of producing soap on a previously unknown scale. "Baltimore was selected because of the city's superior transportation facilities, from handling bulk raw materials by ship and rail to distribution of its product by truck and rail," a Baltimore Museum of Industry publication notes. In time, these advantages diminished; by 1995, the plant was empty.

With the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain eyeing a parcel, formerly a Bethlehem Steel shipyard, near the American Visionary Art Museum, the Key Highway waterfront is taking off. The Procter & Gamble conversion promises to add momentum to that redevelopment.

Pub Date: 5/03/99

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