State opts to keep World Trade Center

February 28, 2007|By Michael Dresser and Meredith Cohn | Michael Dresser and Meredith Cohn,Sun reporters

Reversing the Ehrlich administration's decision to sell Baltimore's World Trade Center, acting Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said yesterday that the state will retain ownership of the Inner Harbor tower "for the foreseeable future."

Porcari said that upon taking office last month, he began a review of the previous administration's decision to sell the 30-story tower, which is about half-vacant. He said he recommended to Gov. Martin O'Malley that the state keep the property and that O'Malley agreed.

"The fundamentals of the building are strong," Porcari said in an interview.

"It's in an extraordinary location. It has the best views in Baltimore, and it's easily accessible to the rest of downtown," he said. "If we ever sell it, I want to make sure we're at the top of the market. And I want to be certain we get the top price for it."

In 2005, previous Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan put the 30-year-old tower on the market, and the Transportation Department received bids for the property last year. But critics of the proposed sale said the state was failing to get top dollar for the building because of a weak commercial real estate market and a high vacancy rate.

According to the department, the state will concentrate on retaining current tenants and attracting new tenants for the building's 300,000 square feet.

Porcari said the building is only 52 percent leased because tenants were told the building would be sold. Tenants include the Maryland Port Administration, port-related businesses and law firms.

Some tenants had wanted to leave even before the World Trade Center was for sale, however, because they said maintenance had been lacking in the top-tier office building.

Others feared a repeat of 2003, when Tropical Storm Isabel sent 3 million gallons of water into the basement and ruined mechanical equipment as well as stored documents. The flood also displaced the building's 60 businesses while repairs were made.

But Porcari said the state has shored up the flood protection, made repairs and plans to continue investing in the building. "Should an extraordinary opportunity arise in the future, there will always be the chance to sell it," he said. "In the short term, it's in the state's best interest to keep and repopulate the building."

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