Warner Bros. to close center

85 will lose jobs

White Marsh facility housed cartoon items

September 06, 2001|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

That's all, folks.

A White Marsh distribution center used by Warner Bros. Studio Stores to supply the nation with cartoon and film-themed merchandise will shut its doors and put 85 employees out of work by the end of the year, the company said.

Warner Bros., home of Porky Pig and Bugs Bunny, announced in January that it would close its approximately 150 retail stores around the country, but the warehouse has remained open to handle supplies to the shops. The company hired a broker in May to find a buyer for the distribution center, one of two in the nation.

"We've been very happy there," said Mike Tillman, vice president of logistics for Warner Bros. Studio Stores. "Maryland is very centrally located, you can reach a lot of retailers from there. [The center] is close to I-95, and White Marsh is a really nice community."

Tillman said many of the employees have been with the company since the distribution center opened in 1995.

He called them loyal and hard-working, but said few would likely want to move to another state to remain employed by Warner Bros., an affiliate of AOL Time Warner.

The company's two retail stores in the Baltimore-Washington region, in Annapolis and Bethesda, have closed. An outlet store at the distribution center will close at the end of the year.

The company said it received no incentives from the state or Baltimore County to build the distribution center in White Marsh, although the warehouse opened to much fanfare because of its size.

The 393,000-square-foot warehouse is not among the largest in the region. But its $37 million price tag was considered among the largest deals of the early 1990s, when grim economic times produced few real estate transactions.

Even as it opened, Warner Bros. said it would consider expanding the facility and hiring up to 400 employees.

But Tillman said employment never reached that number. Many temporary employees have worked in the facility, but only about 85 worked there permanently.

William M. Pellington, a vice president at CB Richard Ellis, a commercial real estate company that is handling the sale, said that the center has a good location near Interstate 95 but that times are again tough for real estate.

Industrial space has continued to sell and lease, but not at the same pace as during the past few years, real estate analysts say. At the end of the first half of 2001, about 9.9 percent of suburban Baltimore's 112 million square feet of industrial space was vacant, including space leased but not used by tenants, according to Delta Associates, a research arm of Trans- western Commercial Services.

Pellington said a number of potential buyers have looked at the space. "We've had a lot of activity for an otherwise down economy," he said. "There are a lot of companies that need distribution space, but there is such pressure on corporate earnings that executives are reluctant to spend the money now."

The asking price for the Warner Bros. facility is $22 million, he said.

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