New life in store for Coke factory

Struever, partner plan development at Locust Point

April 15, 2000|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

The old Coca-Cola syrup plant in Locust Point may be going the way of so many closed factories in Baltimore: out of dereliction and into the stream of harbor renaissance.

Struever Bros., Eccles and Rouse and Continental Realty Corp., based in Towson, have signed a contract to buy the 247,043-square-foot factory, which closed in late 1997, ending 75 years of operation in southern Baltimore.

This comes on the heels of another of Struever's major undertakings in working-class Locust Point, home to several of southern Baltimore's hulking, vacant factories that are ripe for renovation.

"It's no secret this area has tremendous potential," said state Del. Brian K. McHale, who has lived all his life in Locust Point.

Struever is putting $53 million into Tide Point, the former Procter & Gamble detergent factory a few blocks from Coca-Cola. It is projected to become a hub for dot-com start-ups within a year and house at least 1,400 high-tech workers.

The syrup plant, a pre-World War II factory on East Fort Avenue, is expected to become either high-tech offices, warehouse space or even manufacturing.

"Anything that brings us jobs is great, any activity that replaces what was there," said state Sen. George W. Della. "A lot of those employees in that plant lived right there in Locust Point and they would walk to work. It was a heartbreaker when they announced it would close."

The property has been under contract for about a week, said J.M. Shapiro, vice president of Continental Realty. The list price of the 9.4-acre complex will not be available until the deal is sealed. In 1997 the asking price was about $3 million.

Struever, who has helped reconstruct 5 million square feet of buildings across the city, said he didn't want to comment on the Coca-Cola plant until the purchasing process is further along.

"Talk to me next week," he said.

If the syrup factory becomes computer office space, it will fall in line with Struever's vision of a "digital harbor," which attracts workers who otherwise would go to companies in Virginia, Washington, D.C., or elsewhere. Locust Point, home to Fort McHenry and Domino Sugar, may become a microcosm for the concept.

Across the water in Canton, Struever Bros. redeveloped American Can Co., drawing young professionals to the formerly working-class area.

Continental Realty Corp., which is in charge of the day-to-day operations for the Coca-Cola purchase, is also working on other large renovation projects, including the vacant Hechinger national distribution center in Landover, a former 3M plant in Westminster and the 13.1-acre Freedom Village Shopping Center in Eldersburg.

Coca-Cola has been trying to sell the plant since it closed.

"We don't like to keep assets we're not using," said Mart Martin, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based soft-drink giant.

Coca-Cola decided to leave Locust Point for a new plant in Allentown, Pa., after plans to build a syrup-making and bottling plant in Howard County were killed.

It is one of many Locust Point factories that have closed in the past decade, including Procter & Gamble, General Electric, Bond Trucking Co. and Southern States. The neighborhood has lost about 2,600 industrial jobs, including 100 from 90-year-old Chesapeake Paperboard, which recently closed its recycling plant.

But Bridgewater Resources, a New Jersey-based recycling company, is looking at the site and might bring 120 jobs to the area.

By next spring, developer Ted Rouse plans to build 36 upscale, three-story townhouses four blocks from Tide Point. It would be the first new housing development in Locust Point in 74 years.

"A lot of the smokestack industry has left the area," McHale said. "But Locust Point is going to continue to be what it's always been, a place you can work and live and raise a family. It's just that the jobs are changing."

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