Law firm renews downtown lease, plans to expand

Miles & Stockbridge sets $4 million renovation

October 07, 2003|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

In a boost for Baltimore's traditional business district, Baltimore law firm Miles & Stockbridge PC will embark on a long-term growth plan that includes a $4 million renovation to a landmark downtown building and the leasing of additional space as the firm expands.

The firm has signed a 10-year lease renewal in the Bank of America building at 10 Light St. in the city's financial district, with options for an additional six years. The 271 lawyers and other staff at its Baltimore headquarters occupy 126,000 square feet of space on eight floors in the building, considered a prime example of Art Deco architecture.

"This has been the heart of the firm since 1932," John B. Frisch, chairman and chief executive officer of Miles & Stockbridge, said yesterday.

"Our people really enjoy working downtown. The city's fortunes have really turned from a residential standpoint. A lot of our young lawyers are living in some exciting places in Canton, Fells Point and Federal Hill."

Miles & Stockbridge's reaffirmation of downtown's importance came as welcome news to city political and civic leaders still smarting from Piper Marbury Rudnick & Wolfe LLP's move to Mount Washington in 2000.

The blue-chip law firm relocated most of its 500 attorneys and support staff to a building on the St. Paul Cos. 69-acre campus, vacating 15 floors in a Charles Street office building in what was one of the largest defections ever from downtown.

Although Miles & Stockbridge looked at other buildings downtown and considered space that was under construction, there never was much serious consideration given to leaving the city, Frisch said.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley called Miles & Stockbridge's decision to stay in the central business district a victory for the city and praised the firm for not asking for incentives to do so.

"It's big, big news for Baltimore," O'Malley said in an interview yesterday. "It's a firm that's synonymous with Baltimore. I think it sends a very resounding message of optimism to everyone who does business in the downtown central business district."

The law firm is contributing significantly to the mayor's Project 5000 -- an effort to demolish or convert to livable housing 5,000 abandoned buildings -- by providing pro bono legal work on foreclosures of 200 properties, O'Malley said.

"The decision by Miles & Stockbridge to stay downtown signals the firm's commitment to remain a significant player in the civic and corporate life of Baltimore," said Donald C. Fry, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee.

The renovations, scheduled to begin by early January, will be done one floor at a time and are expected to be completed within 18 months, Frisch said. They will include a conference center that is to occupy one entire floor, to be used for closings and other meetings, he said.

Miles & Stockbridge's headquarters office may require another floor of space as soon as two or three years from now, as additional hires are made, Frisch said.

Since the fall of 2001, Miles & Stockbridge has grown by 32 lawyers, 20 of whom are in the Baltimore office. Twenty of those lawyers joined from the former firm of Church Loker & Silver.

Frisch said his law firm is poised to make additional acquisitions as it identifies other firms and attorneys that would be a good match.

"If there are other whole firms whose practice complements us and whose lawyers complement us, we'd consider adding more lawyers to Miles & Stockbridge," he said. "When you add lawyers, you have to do that as opportunities present themselves. You can't just wave a magic wand and say, `We'll grow by X lawyers.'"

Miles & Stockbridge, with a total of 433 lawyers and other staff, has community-based offices in Cambridge, Columbia, Easton, Frederick, Rockville and Towson, and in Tysons Corner, Va., in addition to its Baltimore office.

The 34-story Bank of America building, in which Miles & Stockbridge is the largest tenant, recently was described by the Maryland Historical Society as sharing the same aesthetic influences that inspired New York's Chrysler and Empire State buildings. The historical society's observation was made in an exhibit on downtown architecture.

"There's a certain energy you get by being in downtown," Frisch said yesterday. "There's a vitality that remains throughout the day."

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