4 firms offer S. Balto. plans

5 lots on 20 acres in Fairfield due for development

November 01, 2005|By JAMIE SMITH HOPKINS | JAMIE SMITH HOPKINS,SUN REPORTER

Four groups of companies are interested in what the city says is the last swath of land that needs to be redeveloped in the Fairfield industrial area, a 20-acre collection of lots that the Baltimore Development Corp. intends to purchase.

The South Baltimore peninsula - east of Brooklyn, south of Interstate 895 and cradled by the Patapsco River - is experiencing a revival after years of neglect and slack demand.

Since Fairfield was designated a federal empowerment zone 10 years ago, the city has spent nearly $10 million on road and infrastructure improvements with plans to spend $10 million more. Private companies have invested more than a half-billion dollars in the peninsula over the same period.

Saying it wants to attack the remaining blight, BDC asked for proposals on five lots roughly bounded by Chesapeake Avenue, Carbon Avenue, Weedon Street and Sun Street, all zoned for heavy industrial use. Yesterday, it released the names of companies that responded, ranging from industrial users to a real estate company interested in expanding its Fairfield land holdings.

"We're definitely bullish on the area, and we hope to get the site," said Doug Schmidt, a principal of Chesapeake Real Estate Group in Glen Burnie, which also has a contract on a separate, 22-acre property on the peninsula.

The other companies with proposals are:

Allied Contractors Inc. and Caspa Inc., which want two of the lots to replace the storage yard and equipment repair facility Allied is using on Hawkins Point Road.

Baltimore Scrap Corp., which wants one of the lots to expand its business exporting recycled metal.

Fleet Transit Inc. and Fleet Properties III LLC, which want all five lots to expand its business by adding a petroleum distribution facility; enlarging an existing trailer company; constructing a training school for potential distribution-firm employees; and completing a repair and maintenance facility.

Those companies did not return calls seeking comment yesterday.

Chesapeake Real Estate Group, which wants the entire property, has with C.C. Graves Associates LLC proposed an industrial park with three buildings totaling about 350,000 square feet.

The BDC, the city's quasi-public economic development arm, is negotiating for the land but does not have it in hand yet, said Roseann Walsh, a BDC senior development officer. It is unclear how many of the owners would be willing sellers, she said. The land includes several homes and industrial buildings.

"They're very blighted," she said. "We want to get rid of the blight, and we want to have a development site where we can locate industry that either wishes to expand or to locate here."

The BDC hopes to pick a proposal by the end of the year and complete acquisition within six months, she said.

Demand for Fairfield land has picked up because the infrastructure has improved, the state has passed laws encouraging redevelopment of contaminated properties and industrial sites are a scare resource in the wider region, experts said.

"Product is very difficult to find," said Jim Caronna, a principal at NAI KLNB, a local commercial real estate brokerage firm. "We're running out of land."

Fairfield has made progress cleaning up, though "there's a long way to go," he said. Its access to rail - in addition to roads and terminals - is a real plus, he said.

"We've seen a shift to some rail demand because of the cost of fuel and the cost of trucking," Caronna said. "So companies now are looking at rail sites."

Industrial land used to be more expensive in the city than in its suburbs, but that's been reversing in recent years, which also helps Fairfield, said Richard P. Clinch, director of economic research at the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Institute. Those who develop and operate there are eligible for tax credits.

"The whole Fairfield area ... is about to come into its own," Clinch said. "When you look at what Baltimore City needs, it's these types of jobs."

Schmidt, with Chesapeake Real Estate Group, said he's getting a lot of interest from industrial users in the 22-acre site his company will close on in about two weeks. Port-related businesses, city companies that want to expand and firms in the Baltimore-Washington corridor that are being pushed north by rising prices have called to ask about leasing the space his company will build there, he said.

"The location is good," Schmidt said of Fairfield. "There's a number of ways in and out."

jamie.smith.hopkins@baltsun.com

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