After more than two years of negotiations, the Maryland Historical Society is poised to acquire the former Greyhound bus terminal at Howard and Centre streets. The local landmark figures prominently in the society's $28 million expansion and renovation plan for its Mount Vernon history campus.
Directors say they expect the society to take title later this month to the Art Moderne bus station, which dates from the early 1940s and was transformed to offices after the Greyhound Corp. moved to a different location in 1982.
The building at 601 N. Howard St. will house about 70 employees in the administrative offices of the 155-year-old historical society, which already owns the rest of the block bounded by Monument, Howard and Centre streets and Park Avenue.
The move will free up space in the other buildings so the society can renovate or enlarge them. The expansion is a key component of the revitalization plans for both the Mount Vernon cultural district and Baltimore's west side renewal area.
"The Greyhound terminal was the last portion of the city block not owned by the Maryland Historical Society," said board president Stan Klinefelter.
"With this acquisition, we are now able to move ahead with our master plan and coordinate our expansion."
The society has acquired several other area buildings in recent years, including the former Home Mutual Life building at 100 W. Centre St. and the former Greyhound garage at Park Avenue and Centre Street. Parts of both are now used as public exhibit space.
"We felt it was important for us to have the entire block," said society director Dennis Fiori. "It's important to put all these pieces together."
The society is acquiring the property as a gift from Park Centre Limited Partnership, a group that consists of Struever Brothers, Eccles & Rouse of Baltimore and its investment partner, the Esther M. Mertz Trust of Florida.
Partner Bill Struever said his group was donating the building with the understanding that the society would assume the mortgage on the property.
"It made sense in terms of giving the historical society the ability to complete the block, which they have great uses for," Struever said.
"It also seemed like a good step for the west side. The historical society, with its expansion plans, is a good anchor for the north end of the west side" renewal area.
Established in 1844 to collect, preserve and exhibit objects and materials that embody Maryland's history, the society increased its holdings significantly three years ago by taking over the collection of the Baltimore City Life Museums.
The growth of the society's collections, in turn, has led to the need for more and better space for its staff and artifacts.
Acquisition of the bus station enables the society to respond to its space needs while minimizing the amount of new construction, Fiori explained.
"One of the reasons we're excited is that it serves our office needs very well," he said. "It has a library, meeting room and offices, and it's pretty much in move-in condition."
It also gives the society a greater presence on Maryland's central light rail line.
The society is working with the Mass Transit Administration to have the stop at Howard and Centre streets renamed to indicate that it is a gateway to the Mount Vernon cultural district, Fiori said.
Recent tenants of the converted Greyhound terminal include the Maryland State Arts Council, the Maryland State Humanities Council, the Contemporary Museum and the Baltimore Metropolitan Council. The Contemporary and the humanities council already have moved to new locations, and the rest are expected to move out over the next six months.
Once the society moves its administrative offices to the Greyhound building, it will begin renovations of several buildings along Monument Street, as well as construction of a new "connector" building along Park Avenue.
These projects will provide new public spaces, including areas for exhibitions and educational programs and expansion of the society's library.
Ziger Snead Inc. is the society's architect.
Fiori said the society hopes to break ground by next June on the next major phases of expansion and to complete the bulk of the work by the end of 2002.
Through gift and pledges, he said, it already has raised about $23 million of the $28 million it needs, a figure that includes $18 million for construction and $10 million for an endowment.