Risk-takers gamble by increasing stakes

Montgomery Park: Baltimore City's biggest office project doubles land area even before completion.

September 22, 2001

WHO KNOWS where the economy is headed. Nevertheless, local developers are working hard to convert a long-abandoned 28-acre warehouse site into Baltimore's biggest office park.

A few weeks ago, the $75 million project got even bigger and more ambitious.

A partnership headed by Samuel K. Himmelrich Jr. and David F. Tufaro doubled the land area. They acquired 30 more acres near the intersection of Monroe Street and Washington Boulevard, parcels containing decrepit warehouses and padlocked restaurants.

Their gamble presents the first real opportunity in a long time to return life to the devastated area around Carroll Park. By controlling all this land, the developers now can remold an entire business and warehouse district.

They have bold ideas. Montgomery Park, the former warehouse that is the foundation of their plan, is expected to house 3,500 employees. For the rest of the area, such future uses are envisioned as an extended-stay hotel, day-care centers and, possibly, a Home Depot- or Target-type magnet store.

The Maryland Department of the Environment is among the lead tenants. It has signed a 10-year lease to bring 900 employees into the eight-story main building, once a distribution center for the old Montgomery Ward chain.

When those employees move in next year, they may have to drive to work through some of the city's worst slums. At the same time, they will be within a walking distance of a beautiful golf course. The Baltimore-Washington Parkway, I-95 and the beltway will be just around the corner.

In the beginning, at least, the Montgomery Park office complex is likely to have little impact on the surrounding slums. In the long term, though, nearby Pigtown, because of its proximity to downtown as well, should benefit from this job center. As vacant rowhouses come down, new development should follow.

The Wilkens Avenue corridor, several blocks north of Montgomery Park, is a more difficult situation. Riddled by crime and drugs, its rowhouse streets are pockmarked by a shocking number of abandoned and vandalized houses.

In the aftermath of the World Trade Center destruction, the Montgomery Park project has some psychological advantages. It is not a skyscraper but a gated, mid-rise office complex. Although it is close to downtown, it is on the fringes of the city. And it offers acres and acres of surface parking.

Despite many risks, Montgomery Park developers have taken a gamble that has a high probability of success.

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