High-tech hub on I-95?

Southwest Baltimore: Conversion of vacant Montgomery Ward could bring 5,000 jobs to depressed area.

March 22, 2000

EVEN in its deteriorated condition, the long-vacant Montgomery Ward warehouse catches the eyes of motorists whizzing by on I-95 at Washington Boulevard. Nestled between a golf course and Carroll Park -- with the downtown skyline in the background -- the 1.3 million square-feet fortress is one of Baltimore's largest buildings.

The landmark finally may have a new lease on life.

Developers headed by Sam Himmelrich Jr. and David Tufaro want to turn it into a $75 million business and technology park for 5,000 employees -- with free parking for 3,500 cars. This is wonderful news in a city that has lost thousands of jobs in recent decades.

The proposed Montgomery Ward conversion continues a recent trend that has found imaginative reuses for some of Baltimore's industrial white elephants. The old American Can Co. plant in Canton has become the heart of an office and retail complex. An ancient electric generating station has been reborn as the Inner Harbor's Power Plant entertainment and shopping mecca. In Locust Point, an abandoned Procter & Gamble soap manufacting plant is being refashioned into a high-tech office park with panoramic water views.

As the number of such successful adaptations increases, so does developer interest in the reuse of other old industrial and commercial buildings. On Howard Street, conversion of the former Stewart's department store is one of the cornerstones of efforts to revitalize the west end of downtown.

The Montgomery Ward conversion plan shows how old buildings often have surprising advantages. The old catalogue warehouse may be forbidding and antiquated in many ways. But its huge halls are ideal for computer firms that want to tap into the East Coast's main fiber optic lines that run nearby.

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