Market for former fire stations shows no signs of cooling soon

April 23, 2001|By Kimberly A. C. Wilson | Kimberly A. C. Wilson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's former fire stations are hot.

Last month, three developers jumped at the prospect of transforming the former station at 401 W. North Ave., next to the Jones Falls Expressway.

And if the past is an indicator, interest will be high in a newly advertised request for proposals for a firehouse overlooking Patterson Park.

"Firehouses represent unique opportunities for retrofitting," said Walter Horton, who oversees sales of surplus stations for the city's Department of Housing and Community Development. "Wide-open floor plans. Partial second floors. Balconies, parking pads. They open up ... a lot of creative renovation uses."

Baltimore has sold more than a dozen fire stations to artists, homeless shelters and business owners in recent years. Prices have ranged from $1 for a nonprofit organization to open a halfway house in South Baltimore to $60,000 for a fiber-optics communications company to relocate its headquarters to Howard Park.

Although former schools and libraries tend to be in better condition and need fewer repairs, Horton said, former firehouses in prime locations occupy a niche market.

The century-old North Avenue firehouse, one block east of the Bolton Hill Historic District and south of the Reservoir Hill neighborhood, attracted three proposals for redevelopment.

The brown brick building, former workplace of four generations of firefighters, has been vacant for five years. Graffiti mars portions of its first story, and the interior is in poor condition. But when the Fire Department moved out, the building had coveted touches, such as tin ceilings and a brass pole to slide down from the second floor.

One proposal would transform the 12,620-square-foot property into an engineering design lab and living space for developer Steven Scott and his wife, Renee. Scott is a mechanical engineer involved in product design, analysis and testing for the aerospace industry.

Another proposal calls for a mixed-use renovation. The Rockville architectural firm Donnally, Lederer, Vujcic would carve four large apartments from the rectangular building and turn the remaining 1,200 square feet into a coffee shop.

The final proposal, submitted by Maryland Institute, College of Art, would turn the firehouse into an annex for the school's facilities management department and maintenance shop. Those facilities are spread among four buildings on the nearby campus.

The winning proposal, to be decided this summer, could hinge on experience, said M. J. "Jay" Brodie, president of Baltimore Development Corp., the agency that solicited the bids.

"It's the overall package, the experience of the people, the uses they're going to put it to, how it fits in the neighborhood, an evidence of sensitivity to the area -- all of this matters," Brodie said.

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