Food company expanding to Stroh building

Former brewery called ideal for flour preparation

March 27, 2000|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

The former Stroh Brewery Co. building, a forlorn-looking structure that has sat empty for five years near the Baltimore Beltway in Halethorpe, is being recycled.

Within months, the Colt 45 Malt Liquor logo that once adorned the 1960s-era building will be replaced by the profile of George Washington -- the symbol of Washington Quality Foods, maker of Raga Muffin mixes, Indian Head white and yellow cornmeal and Washington self-rising flour.

The building's new owners are the latest of several businesses to invest in the county's Southwestern enterprise zone and take advantage of tax incentives to revitalize the once-struggling Arbutus and Halethorpe communities.

The company, incorporated as Wilkens-Rogers Inc., is moving its warehouse and flour mixing operation from cramped quarters in Ellicott City to the 500,000-square-foot former brewery.

Michael S. Everett, vice president and chief operating officer, said the plant will be operating there by late spring or early summer.

"It's almost built to suit us," said Everett of the old brewery.

The county's Department of Economic Development spent years seeking a new owner for the building after Stroh closed and laid off 430 people in December 1996.

"It's a signature building passed by thousands of people who drive the Beltway each day," said Fronda Cohen, marketing and communications director for the county's Economic Development Department, which tried unsuccessfully to keep Stroh from moving in 1996.

Taking advantage of financial incentives put together by the department, Washington Quality Foods bought the building from Stroh in 1998 for $7.5 million and is performing $10 million in renovations. About 30 percent of the building is being leased by Bekins, a moving and storage company that will stay in the building.

The package included a $1 million loan at 2 percent interest from the county and the state, and tax credits through the county's enterprise zone "that were a real selling point" to reduce property taxes for five years, Everett said.

He said the building is ideal for his company's flour mixing and packaging operation, not only because of its proximity to Washington's flour mill but because the building's original design for brewing beer also makes it practical for handling flour.

The work force of 115 will be split between the two locations, and the company will hire 30 machine operators, mechanics, electricians and others to run mixers and blenders, he said.

The building also is ideal for food preparation, with drains in the floors and flat ceilings and light fixtures that won't gather flour dust.

Already inside the 100,000-square-foot warehouse are mountains of banana and bran muffin mixes, thousands of bags of self-rising flour and cornmeal and many of the flour and seasoning mixes the company makes for fast-food concerns -- including Hardee's batter mix.

The renovations include a $3 million, computerized flour "batching" system with six new tanks that can hold 1 million pounds of flour. Wilkens-Rogers also is building quality control labs where the products will be baked and tested before being put on sale.

Not all of the building will be used for flour processing.

Down the hall from the new quality control labs are the old filthy Stroh's offices and an abandoned bacteriology lab.

At the end of the hall are the giant, dusty brewing tanks that Beltway travelers have seen through the tall windows for the past 40 years.

They will remain unused indefinitely.

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