Old brewery coming down

Landmark: The vats where beer was made and the home of Washington flour will give way to a warehouse and offices.

February 15, 2005|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

One of the most visible and well-known landmarks along the Baltimore Beltway, the hulking, former Stroh Brewery Co. tower, will be demolished during the next few months in an $8 million project to make way for a vast warehouse and office building complex that could bring about 200 jobs to a Baltimore County enterprise zone.

The property's new owner, First Industrial Realty Trust, bought the 400,000-square- foot plant in Halethorpe in late December for $13.9 million. The building was owned by Washington Quality Foods, which is still using part of the plant for manufacturing.

First Industrial, a Chicago-based real estate investment trust that builds and manages industrial property, expects to attract distribution businesses to the site on Hollins Ferry Road.

The developer plans to tear down the 108-foot-tall brick tower that housed the former brewery's stainless steel tanks - about 50,000 square feet - and build an addition of up to 150,000 square feet of warehouse space, said Mark McConnell, regional director for the Baltimore-Washington D.C. office of First Industrial.

First Industrial was attracted by the plant's location, on 40 acres with frontage along the Beltway, and expects to attract tenants who want a suburban environment with quick access to Baltimore and Washington. After its completion, scheduled for the spring of next year, the building will encompass about 550,000 square feet.

"It's a terrific adaptive redevelopment project," McConnell said, adding that the plant's brewery tower has been unused since Stroh and before that Carling Brewery Co. brewed beer there. "You're taking out something that's not functioning for anyone and creating something that's functional."

Washington Quality Foods, maker of Raga Muffin mixes, Washington flour and a line of cake, cookie and doughnut mixes, sold the plant after deciding to consolidate its flour milling business. It will operate from its 5-acre Ellicott City plant, where it has been grinding wheat and corn into flour and cornmeal since the early 1970s. The company plans to lease back through the end of the year the 150,000 square feet it uses at the Halethorpe plant.

"It got to the point that it didn't make sense to keep operating both plants, and the real estate market got to be so strong, and a buyer came along with an attractive price," said Tom Rogers, co-chief executive officer of the company, a division of privately held Wilkins Rogers Inc. "It was expensive to operate both plants. There was not enough business to operate both at full capacity."

Rogers declined to comment on the company's current production and number of employees.

Washington Quality Foods bought the plant from Stroh Brewery in 1998 for $7.5 million. Washington Foods spent more than two years and $25 million retrofitting the plant.

The company got a $1 million loan from the county and state to help with the cost of converting the brewery. It has repaid the loan, said Fronda Cohen, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore County Department of Economic Development.

In the retrofitted facility, Washington Foods makes dry mixes such as muffin mixes and pancake batter, does packaging and operates a research and development lab, where workers create flavors for batters, cake mixes and poultry coatings for commercial customers. The Halethorpe facility had until recently also been used as company headquarters.

Company officials told The Sun in 2003 that the company was making as much as 400,000 pounds a day of dry mixes, such as muffin mixes and pancake batter, at the Halethorpe facility. Also, as of 2003, the company had said it was producing 1 million pounds of flour and 60,000 to 80,000 pounds of cornmeal each day at its plant in Ellicott City and at another in Pennsylvania.

The company had 125 employees and annual sales of $48 million in fiscal 2003, according to a January IAC Company Intelligence report.

Rogers said last week that the company would move its equipment out of the Halethorpe plant and into the Ellicott City plant.

McConnell said the space being vacated by Washington Quality Foods would be well suited for another food manufacturer. Another tenant, CDS, a distribution company, is expected to stay in about 130,000 square feet of space.

As an investor in a state-designated enterprise zone, First Industrial will be eligible for property tax credits of up to 80 percent in the first five years, and tenants will be eligible for tax credits for new hires.

As one of the few new warehouse projects in that part of the county, the property will have an advantage in wooing tenants, said Jim Caronna, a principal with NAI KLNB, a commercial real estate brokerage firm.

For First Industrial, the purchase was "a great opportunity to acquire 40 very highly visible acres in Baltimore County in an enterprise zone," Caronna said. "The opportunity to buy 40 acres right at the Beltway, that's a rare event."

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