Hampden landmark to begin life anew

Renovations near completion at old Northern District station

September 14, 2006|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,Sun Reporter

Outside the old Northern District police station in Hampden, workers are moving at a furious pace. Construction starts as early as 7 a.m. and lasts well into the early evening, all in an attempt to get the historic Victorian-style landmark ready for its new tenant, set to move in next month.

It is, considering the amount of work left, an ambitious undertaking. The inside of the main building looks more like an abandoned rowhouse than a place scheduled to have a public gathering Saturday to celebrate the Community Law Center's arrival. The center will take up the second floor when it moves in Oct. 1.

"They are racing, like many contractors do, to get the final details done," said Douglas Kington, principal of Kington Commercial LLC, a real estate brokerage firm handling the building's rental. "The dry-walling, the carpeting. Is it going to be a race to the finish line? It always is."

The old station, at 3355 Keswick Road, has been vacant for more than four years. The brick-and-mortar building with its high arching stained-glass windows is far from an eyesore, but community leaders are pleased that life will soon be injected back into the property. The police building, constructed in 1899, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Genny Dill, president of the Hampden Community Council, said she is glad to see the building in use again but worries about parking problems.

Dill estimates that once space in the 25,000-square-feet building is rented out, more than 100 workers and visitors will come to the neighborhood daily. She fears that parking for residents will suffer.

"People aren't going to want to park three blocks away when they can park at somebody's house," Gill said. "That aside, it is a beautiful building. And it's going to be preserved."

Kington said about 50 spaces are on the site for visitor parking. He said the developers are trying to obtain city-owned parking lots a few blocks from the property. Employees would be asked to park there.

"Parking is an issue," he said. "But it is better in Hampden than downtown."

Despite the nearly $4 million renovation, the structure retains some of its history.

The jail cells in the basement are intact, Kington said. The city's juvenile jail was the last resident of the building, temporarily moving in after the police station moved to its current site off West Cold Spring Lane in 2001. The juvenile jail moved out in March 2002, and the city sold the property to Stanley Keyser and his partner, Wendy L. Blair, that August for $225,000.

Keyser and Blair originally wanted to use the space as an open urban courtyard, a gathering place for neighborhood residents that would include a restaurant and commercial offices.

Those plans waned in favor of leasing the property to a private school, a proposal that met opposition from the community, which worried about increased traffic from the school and an influx of unruly children, Kington said.

Kington said the developers are calling the place Hampden Village Centre, the original name proposed four years ago. The goal is to have the space rented out by late November, when construction on the overall building is expected to be complete.

Although the law center is the only company set to move in, Kington said he is receiving inquiries from prospective tenants that could take up 15,000 square feet of the space.

The center is typical of the kinds of clients the developers want to rent to - creative design or architectural firms that have an appreciation of the property's history.

"I always loved this building," said Kristine Dunkerton, executive director of the law center. "When I saw it was time for our current lease to come up, it was just perfect timing. Nothing was as unique and exciting as this space."

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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