Developer buying former firehouse

Pikesville site envisioned as restaurant or shop after $125,000 remodeling

January 20, 2004|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Some envision a chance for a developer to capitalize on the exposed brick and a tin ceiling. Others marvel at the prospect of a new Reisterstown Road business with coveted off-street parking.

The area's county councilman sees the potential for an enjoyable place to go for dinner -- one that might even serve five-alarm chili.

More than five years after the last engines pulled out of the bay, the former Pikesville firehouse is being sold to an Owings Mills company that plans to develop the property as a restaurant or shop.

The sale to Pikesville Realty, a subsidiary of the Fedder Co., is expected to be completed this month.

Pikesville Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sherrie Becker said the community is pleased with the plan.

"It's been vacant for so long, not contributing to the tax rolls, not contributing to the community of Pikesville. And the building really does have a lot of charm," she said. "One of the advantages of a restaurant is that after people go to the restaurant they often patronize other businesses nearby."

Terms of the $100,000 sale include an obligation for Fedder to spend $125,000 renovating the property at 1212 Reisterstown Road, Baltimore County officials said. The deed also includes restrictions against its being used as a liquor store, pawnshop, gun shop or fast-food restaurant, or for other uses that the community might find objectionable, officials said.

Because the property is in one of the county's 13 revitalization districts, Fedder is eligible for several low-interest loans, tax credits and exterior architectural design services, said Peirce Macgill, a county commercial revitalization specialist.

Business owners and community groups submitted a revised master plan late last year for Pikesville that, among other goals, called for promoting the establishment of a "restaurant row" along Reisterstown Road.

"The best part is that the firehouse will live another century as part of this community in a new use," said County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville Democrat.

The tenant has not been established, said Robert G. Pollokoff, Fedder president and chief executive officer. But the property could be ready to open for business as early as this summer, he said.

Fedder, which has owned the properties on both sides of the firehouse for more than 30 years, has been interested in purchasing the two-story building since the county vacated it for the Walker Avenue station in 1997, Pollokoff said. Owning all three buildings will allow the company to combine the rear parking areas, he said.

Fedder has renovated other older properties in the area, including Colonial Village Shopping Center in Pikesville and One Mile West Shopping Center in Catonsville.

"Because it's 80-plus years old, it makes for interesting aesthetics," said Pollokoff. "I think it's ideal for a restaurant."

There's no fire pole in the old station, but the tin ceiling and exposed brick are visible in the old engine bay, he said. The racks firefighters used for their hats and gear are on the wall.

Across the country, old firehouses are popular sites for restaurants and bars, many of which retain such details as the bay doors.

"People like the character of the building -- the original tin ceilings, the original fire poles, the glazed brick," said Amy Ermatinger, manager of the Chicago Firehouse Restaurant.

In Maryland, plans to renovate a vacant fire station in Canton have created a political squabble. A Federal Hill tavern owner wanted to redevelop the Canton station into a bar, but residents balked at the idea of another bar on the square and state politicians responded with a law that blocked the plan.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. vetoed the measure, but the state Senate overrode his veto last week.

There's been no such controversy about the Pikesville station, though.

"I think people are going to be pleased," said County Executive James T. Smith Jr. "Renaissance isn't all big projects. It's a lot of smaller ones, too."

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