Architectural firm leaving Charles Village

Whitman, Requardt plans to build larger quarters near Inner Harbor East

January 24, 2000|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

A prominent architectural and engineering firm that has been a pillar of its North Baltimore neighborhood for 85 years is planning to relocate to the city's waterfront.

Whitman, Requardt and Associates -- which has been in Charles Village since its founding in 1915 and spearheaded the creation of the city's first neighborhood benefits district there five years ago -- wants to build more spacious headquarters at the western edge of Fells Point, near Inner Harbor East, for its 270 employees.

City officials, who are working to retain major employers, cheered the company's decision to remain in Baltimore, which follows successful negotiations to keep CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield downtown and the beginning of similar efforts involving architectural giant RTKL Associates Inc.

"They're making a very public commitment to remain in the city," said Andrew Frank, executive vice president of Baltimore Development Corp., the city's development agency. "The city is retaining a major employer."

But some Charles Village leaders expressed regret about the loss of their commercial neighbor.

"As corporate citizens, they've been fantastic. We're pretty upset [because] it means the loss of a partner which has helped the neighborhood tremendously," said Dan Klocke, executive director of the Charles Village Community Benefits District, which administers a local tax spent mainly on safety and sanitation services.

Whitman, Requardt managing partner Richard Lortz said the principal reason for the move is a space shortage at the company's headquarters in a six-story sandstone building in the 2300 block of St. Paul St.

"We have to have more space," he said. "We're so crowded."

City officials said the firm has exclusive negotiating rights for city-owned land at 801 S. Caroline St. Whitman, Requardt's new brick building and parking garage, expected to cost $18 million, will border an expansion of the Black Olive restaurant, though the two projects are independent, officials said.

The engineering design firm plans to construct an 80,000-square-foot building, 20,000 square feet larger than its current location.

The firm has proposed leasing the waterfront land from the city and intends to sell its building, formerly a bank. Lortz said the St. Paul Street site is "informally on the market" and that he has received expressions of interest. Other than estimated construction costs, officials did not disclose financial details of the move.

Frank and Lortz said the project could break ground this spring and be completed next year. Its location in Baltimore's empowerment zone is expected to give the company considerable tax breaks.

Some people fear the economic consequences of losing one of Charles Village's largest professional employers.

"It's not good when professional companies leave," said Michael Rock, a developer in the area. "We need to figure out how to keep them because frequently what replaces them is not as desirable."

Whitman, Requardt has an unusual place in the history of Charles Village for taking action soon after 25-year-old engineer David Gordon was shot to death in the company parking lot a few days after Christmas 1990.

The killing became a catalyst for the creation of the Charles Village Community Benefits District.

The company spent time and money -- about $200,000 -- to put the benefits district on the map. Lortz described the experiment, which was approved by a resident referendum, as "a base to build on."

The partner who engineered the effort for several years was Thomas Shafer, now retired.

"We recognized we had to improve the neighborhood or move. We had lots and lots of meetings on back porches and the farmers' market," he said.

Crime in the area has dropped 56 percent since 1996, according to the benefits district.

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