Port Covington might get a marina, hotel or offices

Boat-repair company near Domino relocating to larger waterfront site

September 16, 2004|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Call it the Domino effect.

A 400-slip marina and either an office or a hotel might be coming to a languishing area of Baltimore because a boat-repair company is planning to relocate from Locust Point to free up space for Domino Sugar's trucks, which are on the wrong side of a long-awaited road extension project.

Tidewater Yacht Service Center, Domino's neighbor, has a contract on 13 acres in Port Covington and plans to set aside 6 acres for development beyond its boat-related business.

It would be yet another new direction for the historically industrial Port Covington, a former rail yard whose transformation into a shopping complex has stumbled. A retail strip center planned by a Connecticut landowner, Starwood Ceruzzi LLC, has yet to materialize two years after a Wal-Mart and Sam's Club opened there east of Hanover Street.

"This is one of those rare occasions where if it all works out, everybody involved comes out a winner," said Tidewater owner Bob Brandon, who is to go before the city Design Advisory Panel today.

Brandon's real estate consultant thinks offices or a small hotel - which are permitted uses on the site - could be a better fit than stores for Port Covington. It is a convenient site with visibility problems.

"It's right next to I-95, but people sometimes complain about finding it just the same," said Alfred W. Barry III, principal of AB Associates in Baltimore. "I think that's more problematic for a retail use than an office user who's going there every day."

The area clearly can work if the fit is right. Nick's Fish House, which opened in March on the waterfront, is often packed inside and out on its crab deck.

"We have had people tell us it's a problem finding it, but they're so intent on finding it, they don't give up," said Tony Guarino, general manager.

He's happy to hear about the plans for a large recreational marina: That could only mean more customers for him.

The Locust Point road proposal that started it all has been a generation in the making. Businesses and residents have long wanted the city to extend Key Highway through the community to get truck traffic off narrow neighborhood roads.

That project has been bid out to contractors, and the city is resolving the final land issues.

A key one is that Domino's trucks now park on a hill across the highway from its plant. Rather than building an expensive retaining wall or grading the lot when the road is extended, the city is negotiating for 2 acres of Brandon's land, which it intends to sell or lease to Domino for truck parking.

Brandon said Domino is interested in buying the remaining 2.7 acres from him directly, though Tidewater would lease it back for a decade while it establishes itself in Port Covington.

Domino did not respond to repeated calls for comment. But Andrew Frank, executive vice president of the Baltimore Development Corp., said there's the potential for expansion at Domino.

Its parent, American Sugar Refining Co., has shifted more production to the Locust Point plant since closing a refinery in Brooklyn, N.Y., this year.

"The focus [of the land deal] is to address the issue that is raised by the building of the road, which is the displacing of the truck parking, but in the process of that, if we can do some good by giving them more room to expand or breathing room, then even better," Frank said.

Tidewater would have more space as well. Brandon expects to use 7 acres of the land for his business - which he hopes to move to Port Covington by March - and put the waterfront to use with a recreational marina in a few years.

He expects to keep a small part of Tidewater - his fuel dock business, retail store and water taxi repair operation - on Key Highway for a decade to ease the transition to a new place.

"I think after 10 years, we would be well enough established at Port Covington that the visibility here in the harbor wouldn't be as important," Brandon said. "And I would think that Domino hopes that within 10 years they'd be ready to expand to the rest of the property."

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