New life for old brewery

Building supply distributor set for old Stroh's site near Beltway

April 19, 2007|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Sun reporter

A one-time brewery-turned-flour mill in Halethorpe is being recycled once again for use by a plumbing and building supply distributor, the latest in a series of redevelopment projects slated to bring about 600 new jobs to the traditionally industrial area of southwest Baltimore County.

The former Stroh Brewery Co., for years one of the best-known landmarks along the Baltimore Beltway with its hulking tower of stainless steel tanks and later home to Washington Quality Foods, will house three divisions of Wolseley North America. The divisions will employ about 170 people.

Company officials unveiled plans yesterday to complete the redevelopment of the 367,000- square-foot plant on Hollins Ferry Road by August. It will house Ferguson, one of the largest distributors of plumbing supplies and heating and cooling equipment in the nation; Ferguson Fire and Fabrication, a maker of fire sprinkler systems; and Stock Building Supply, a building supply distributor to homebuilders and contractors. Ferguson will move from its current location on East Monument Street, where it has been for nearly 25 years.

The Halethorpe facility will allow the company to expand its distribution of Ferguson and Stock products in a prime location next to Interstate 695 and I-95, said Tom Caldroney, who will serve as general manager of the Ferguson portion of the facility.

"There is a lot of history here, and we are proud to have an opportunity to reinvent such an historic facility and make it our home," Caldroney said.

Ferguson is leasing the space from One Liberty Properties Inc., a New York-based real estate investment trust that purchased the 21-acre property and plant for $32.2 million in December.

The project is part of a surge of commercial redevelopment taking place in the Halethorpe/Arbutus corridor of southwest Baltimore County.

Cowan Systems, a regional trucking firm, is completing a $6 million headquarters, also on Hollins Ferry Road. Environmental Quality Resources, an environmental remediation company now based in Gaithersburg, started work this month on a new headquarters on Benson Court that will employ 125 people.

Bakery Express, a supplier to 7/Eleven and Ms. Desserts, expects to start demolishing a 55-year-old warehouse on Hollins Ferry Road this spring and replace it with a new, 210,000-square-foot manufacturing and distribution center that will employ 325 people.

Commercial developer Preston Partners has purchased a former Super Fresh warehouse on Hollins Ferry Road and plans to build office space that could house defense-related companies that are expected to need offices as part of the federal base realignment that will bring thousands of jobs to Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground.

And Maryland Food Bank moved its headquarters to Halethorpe last year, bringing 50 jobs.

"It's an amazing location, and people understand they can't go and find green fields or forests to do these projects," said David S. Iannucci, executive director of Baltimore County's Department of Economic Development. "This has amazing access to the interstate highways and is minutes from downtown Baltimore."

The largely industrial area that had been pockmarked with abandoned and decrepit buildings over the years was designated as a county enterprise zone in 1996. Since then, businesses have made $53 million in new capital and equipment investments and generated 622 jobs, according to the county economic development department.

Built in 1960, the brewery housed a succession of beer makers. The last, Stroh Brewery, sold the plant to Washington Quality Foods in 1998 for $7.5 million. Washington Foods, which spent more than two years and $25 million retrofitting the plant where it made muffin mixes and pancake batter, sold the property to First Industrial Realty Trust in late December 2004 for $13.9 million.

The developer tore down the 108-foot-tall brick tower that housed the vats where beer had been made, began demolishing parts of the exterior and interior of the building and signed up Ferguson as a tenant, said Mark W. McConnell, a regional director for First Industrial.

"Our plan from the onset was to redevelop the building and construct an office/warehouse facility, then lease it," McConnell said. "Honestly, we thought Ferguson was an ideal user for that building."

The decision to sell the property was "strictly a business decision," he said.

Mark H. Lundy, a spokesman for One Liberty, said the company bought the property not from First Industrial, but from a third party he declined to name. A spokeswoman for Wolseley said Ferguson signed a lease with Sun Trust Equity Funding, which had purchased the property from First Industrial, then sold it to One Liberty.

During a tour of the former brewery yesterday, County Executive Jim Smith said the area is now viewed as desirable for new development.

"We love to have companies that have staying power and that have grown, and we're looking forward to even more growth," Smith said. "This really is a hot area in the region. It's really a business-oriented renaissance that we've got to have."

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