The historic Bagby Furniture Co. building will get a face-lift and new tenants after its sale to Chesapeake Real Estate Group LLC, which plans to turn the first floor into retail while keeping the top three floors as office space.
The building, at Fleet and Exeter streets, could open its retail shops as soon as spring, according to Doug Schmidt, principal of Chesapeake Real Estate. No price was disclosed for its sale last week.
"It will be part of the whole walking, mixed-use experience of Harbor East," Schmidt said. "The north side of the building is a half-block from Eastern Avenue, where Little Italy and all the restaurants are. We really see it as a connector between those two areas."
The seller was Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse Inc., which renovated the old furniture showroom at 509 S. Exeter St. and will continue to manage the property on behalf of the Chesapeake group.
The multimillion-dollar renovation will create 26,000 square feet of retail space in the building, which is directly across from a Whole Foods supermarket and the soon-to-open 47,000-square-foot Maryland Athletic Club and seven-screen Landmark Theaters.
Based on the interest from retailers so far, the occupants will be high-end retailers like those that have already claimed Harbor East as their home, Schmidt said.
"It just makes sense that the success of Harbor East and downtown along the waterfront would connect north and east into neighborhoods like Little Italy," said Michael Evitts, a spokesman for the Downtown Partnership. "The development of the Bagby Building is exactly what we're talking about. It pulls people across a key street and into a new area."
The building currently is about 25 percent leased, including the engineering firm McCormick & Taylor, which occupies the fourth floor, Schmidt said.
It was formerly the home of Eisner Communications, an advertising firm that closed last year.
The four-story building, which offers sweeping views of the harbor, was constructed in 1901 for Bagby - a company that began business on Howard Street as Bagby and Rivers in 1880. The firm manufactured residential furniture that was distributed across the East Coast.
The company closed in 1990 at a time when other furniture retailers, including Fallon & Helen on Mulberry Street and C.H. Lear's of Howard Street, also were closing.
A plan to convert the building to apartments more than 10 years ago met community opposition and never moved forward.
"Right now there is very little space that is available in Harbor East between now and when the Legg Mason building opens," Schmidt said.
H&S Properties Development Corp., the major developer in Harbor East, is building a corporate headquarters for the Baltimore money manager. The 24-story tower is slated to open in 2009.
The Chesapeake Group also is developing a 1.5 million-square-foot industrial park off the Maryland Route 43 extension, Schmidt said.