Old firehouses in the city draw attention for redevelopment

Guilford Avenue station is the latest to attract proposals for reuse

`Unique opportunities'

October 17, 2001|By Jamie Stiehm | By Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Old fire stations, vintage poles and all, suddenly have drawn another burst of architectural attention.

Three developers have drafted separate proposals for restoring a closed early 20th-century Baltimore firehouse in the 1300 block of Guilford Ave. on the northern edge of the Midtown/Belvedere neighborhood, city officials said.

The fire station, distinguished by an arched balcony that overlooks the Jones Falls Expressway, is one of five closed last year by Mayor Martin O'Malley as a cost-cutting measure.

Andrew B. Frank, executive vice president of Baltimore Development Corp., said that when the city issued a request for proposals for the building several months ago, none was submitted. The agency revealed the latest three proposals last week.

In the aftermath of terrorist attacks last month on the Pentagon and New York's World Trade Center, in which numerous firefighters were killed, he said, "people are thinking of firefighters differently, and their buildings have more stature."

In February, three developers jumped at the chance to transform another former station at 401 W. North Ave., next to the Jones Falls Expressway. And interest in a recent request for proposals for a firehouse overlooking Patterson Park is expected to be high.

In June, Maryland Institute College of Art announced plans to spend $1 million to turn the former North Avenue Fire Station into its facilities management department and maintenance shop. The city had sought a buyer for the century-old building, vacant since the fire station closed in 1997 and Engine No. 1 and Truck No. 11 moved out.

In April, Walter J. Horton, who oversees sales of surplus stations for the Department of Housing and Community Development, said, "Firehouses represent unique opportunities for retrofitting: Wide-open floor plans. Partial second floors. Balconies, parking."

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.

Proposals for the Guilford Avenue firehouse include a cafe that would exhibit art, an apartment complex and offices for a developer. Frank said a meeting would be scheduled within a month to allow members of the community to speak with developers. A decision by the city is expected by the end of the year, he said.

Sandra R. Sparks, executive director of Midtown Community Benefits District, said the slightly curved firehouse, which faces the Guilford Avenue bridge, is on "a major corner, with a grand overlook. This [project] could be an anchor for housing revitalization."

A 50-seat Fire House Cafe featuring French, American and Mediterranean cuisine and works by local artists was proposed by Hakim T. Zubar. He and his family would use the second story as a residence.

Stanley Keyser, a developer who specializes in historic preservation, proposed using the building for his offices and as storage space for historical artifacts. He is working on redeveloping the former Northern District police station in Hampden for use by a bank, and recently restored the 1896 Queen Anne Belvedere building in the 1200 block of N. Charles St. for mixed use, including apartments.

William H. Hazlehurst Jr. and David L. Lewis propose using the firehouse as an entrance to a 62-unit apartment complex, which would incorporate three other buildings.

Noting the period touches, such as a spiral staircase, a courtyard and large windows, Hazlehurst said, "You can really picture how grand it could be."

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