Ceremony marks gift of Esskay facility to college foundation

Meat-processing plant to be razed by August

April 13, 2000|By Kurt Streeter | Kurt Streeter,SUN STAFF

When Herb Wetherington looks at the fading hulk of a building at East Baltimore and Haven streets, he becomes nostalgic and hopeful all at once. The building is the long-dormant Esskay Quality Meats Co. processing plant, once one of Highlandtown's biggest employers but now a vacant, down-at-the-heels relic most noticeable for its smashed windows.

"Because of the memories, it puts a bit of a hole in my stomach to see what's going to happen to this building," Wetherington said as he stood in the parking lot near the building yesterday. "But it's got to come down."

The 70-year-old Southeast Baltimore community activist, who worked at the plant for 31 years, was at the site for ceremonies heralding the end of an era for the nearly 14-acre property, one of the city's largest industrial sites.

The event marked the turnover of the property from Smithfield Foods Inc., the Virginia-based owner of Esskay, as a gift to the Essex Community College Foundation.

The foundation will level the plant by August. Yesterday, demolition equipment rumbled about while speakers, including state Sen. Perry Sfikas and area businessman Bob Santoni, spoke to about 40 people.

Sfikas said the building is another sign that a "renaissance" is taking place in Southeast Baltimore, which he said is underscored by the revitalized Fells Point and Canton neighborhoods and recent moves to pump new energy into Highlandtown.

Santoni, owner of Santoni's Market near the plant, said the Essex college foundation is seeking a bidder to build and operate a business at the site.

Santoni, who thought of redeveloping the site when he was head of the foundation in the mid-1990s, said it is hoped that a manufacturing center employing at least 120 local residents will be built there.

Profits from the sale or long-term lease of the site will go to the foundation, which provides scholarships and staff support to the Essex campus of Community College of Baltimore County.

About 20 percent of the college's students are from Southeast Baltimore neighborhoods.

The demolition of the Esskay plant, which has been crumbling since it closed in 1993, will be paid for by city and state grants, including $1.6 million from the state Department of Business and Economic Development.

Baltimore Development Corp. and the Abell Foundation combined to provide more than $300,000 in grants and loans to help pay for demolition and related costs.

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