Middle River site sold to shy buyer

Historic Glenn Martin plant bought online in mystery bid

October 28, 2006|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN REPORTER

The federal agency that owns the sprawling historic World War II aircraft manufacturing plant in Middle River said yesterday that it has approved its sale for $37.5 million to the high bidder in a long-running online auction, which it identified only as a limited liability company.

The Baltimore lawyer representing the buyers would say only that the winning bidder is not local and was prepared to invest vast sums to develop the 50-acre property.

Baltimore County officials, hoping to see the site transformed into a mix of housing, offices and retail, said they are eager to learn the identity of the buyer, who bid under the moniker "believe1."

The seller, the U.S. General Services Administration, had selected the buyer of the former Glenn L. Martin plant in a three-month-long online auction that ended Sept. 22. The auction drew international attention and set a sales price record for any online auction of GSA property. At the auction's close the buyer was identified only by its screen name, "believe1."

The GSA said yesterday that it signed a contract with Middle River Station Development LLC, but did not identify the principals or companies involved.

An attorney for the purchaser said the buyer is not based in the Baltimore area and did not want to reveal its identity yet. He said the buyer expects to close on the property by the end of the year.

But "the purchaser has the resources and the experience and is excited about having this unique property to redevelop," said attorney Y. Jeffrey Spatz, of Gordon, Feinblatt, Rothman, Hoffberger & Hollander LLC of Baltimore. "They would like to create a mixed-use property to take full advantage of the area and the growth they see occurring in the area."

Through Spatz, the Middle River principals released a statement saying, "We are looking forward to working with Baltimore County and the local community in determining and finalizing the plans on how best to redevelop this historic property."

Fronda J. Cohen, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore County Department of Economic Development, said county officials have met representatives of the buyers but have not been told who the buyer is.

Their representatives "have indicated that the buyer has extensive experience in real estate industry and they are looking forward to working with the county and community to come up with something really special for this unique property," Cohen said.

At this point, the developers have only a concept of how to redevelop the site, Spatz said.

They have ruled out keeping the existing facility as a warehouse, its most recent use, but are considering options such as office and residential use that will exceed the existing 1.9 million square feet. The main building, the former plant where B-26 Marauder bombers were manufactured during World War II, is listed on the Maryland Historical Trust's Inventory of Historic Properties. It sits on Eastern Boulevard across from Martin State Airport, next to a MARC train station and a short drive to Interstate 95 and I-695.

"The plans are to capture the best and optimum use for all 50 acres," and will cost significantly more than the $37.5 million purchase price, Spatz said.

The area, which has experienced new residential growth in recent years, is expected to get a boost for commercial growth from last Monday's opening of the new $75 million, 3.8 mile stretch of White Marsh Boulevard. The extension of Route 43 will help connect some 1,000 acres in Middle River where work has started on two business parks, including Crossroads @ 95 business park.

Mark W. McConnell, a regional director for First Industrial, a developer of warehouse and industrial space at Crossroads, said he too was eager to find out who would be developing the neighboring property and what it would become. The building has some real redevelopment challenges because of its size and historic status, he said.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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