A vacant, turn-of-the-century West Baltimore warehouse that once housed trolley cars will begin to come down in the next two months to make way for convenience shops that residents say their struggling neighborhood needs.
If all goes as planned, six months after the demolition of the beige concrete warehouse at 2801 Edmondson Ave. in the Rosemont community will be transformed into a shopping center with a minimarket, a gas station and carwash, a laundry, check-cashing and fast-food storefronts and a lighted parking lot for 80 to 100 cars.
For developer Carl Verstandig, president of Pikesville-based America's Realty LLC, the project, tentatively called Edmondson Plaza, is his 42nd in Baltimore and 82nd overall.
He buys most of his properties for modest sums after they have been on the market for some time, using bank loans and income from past projects for upgrades. The majority are in rough or recovering areas and generally bring food, convenience and low-cost variety stores to areas lacking options.
"There's a need for services," Verstandig said last week while touring the site. "There's a void in the neighborhoods because they are somewhat rough, and residents are forced to leave the area to shop. This should stop some people from having to go out Route 40 west."
For the project, which is expected to cost $2.5 million, Verstandig is teaming with a veteran of demolition and development, David J. Berg of Berg Corp. A real estate broker brought the two to the building four or five months ago, and they said they have a letter of intent to buy the property. Berg would handle demolition and plans to recycle 95 percent of the concrete, some of it into the parking lot.
Land records show that the 65,376-square-foot warehouse is owned by the estate of Margaret and Victor Frenkil, a contractor and philanthropist, and that its assessed value is $392,200.
Berg said they wanted to save the building, which has trolley tracks inside. They thought about bringing in a department store and removing the cinderblocks that fill the bays that accommodated the trolleys, which were phased out in Baltimore in the 1950s and 1960s.
But they found that the building ran downhill and was too big an architectural challenge.
"With the sloping grade, it's hard to reutilize the building," said Berg. The warehouse will be replaced with 10,000 square feet of shops, he said.
A neighbor said the city had leased the building to store unwanted furniture and equipment that was offered to churches and community groups, but it moved out two or three years ago. Signs announcing "surplus" items hang inside.
The Rev. Lovell Parham, a second vice president of the Rosemont Homeowners and Tenants Association, said the building is largely an eyesore, and that the community always fears that empty buildings attract drug users if left vacant too long. The association supported a zoning change needed to permit shops.
"It was a blow to the community when the city moved out," he said. "Fortunately, we have had no problems there, but it doesn't take too long. We were worried about squatters, people using drugs or selling drugs. There was danger of that."
Parham said the neighborhood has drugs and many empty rowhouses, but that the community association is working with the city on those problems and residents are glad to see investment come to them.
Only a few shops have opened in their stretch of the U.S. 40 corridor in recent years, he said, so the convenience and food stores are welcome.