Bagby Building's Owners Claim 80% Occupancy

December 08, 2009|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella , lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

Developers of the historic Bagby Furniture Building in Little Italy, on the edge of Harbor East, have boosted the building's occupancy to 80 percent since launching a $5 million renovation of what had been mostly vacant office space.

Chesapeake Real Estate Group LLC has brought in 15 new office and retail tenants since buying the building in 2007, when it was 20 percent filled, converting the first-floor offices into street-level shops, adding a lobby and courtyard for outdoor dining and renovating the four levels of offices.

The developers, who finished the bulk of the 18-month renovation in October, said they have succeeded in attracting new retailers and office tenants, despite a general slowdown in commercial leasing, because of strong demand spurred by the waterfront Harbor East community.

The Harbor East development has grown significantly over the past decade and now includes blocks of apartments, condos, shops, restaurants, hotels and offices, including Legg Mason Tower, the new headquarters for the Baltimore-based money manager. The Bagby Building, on Fleet and South Exeter streets just north of Harbor East, sits across from a Whole Foods supermarket, the Maryland Athletic Club and Landmark Theaters.

Neil Tucker, a Chesapeake Real Estate partner, said much of the demand for additional retail has come from the existing employers and residents in Harbor East.

"Harbor East has done great, and we've been able to expand upon it," said Doug Schmidt, a principal with Chesapeake Real Estate. "We've been able to connect Harbor East and Little Italy. There was just an office building here, and now there's retail that connects all the way through."

Office tenants have been drawn to the historic nature of the building and nearby amenities for workers, while, "from a retailer standpoint, there's great cachet to the neighborhood and a great customer base," Schmidt said.

The development group bought the building in August 2007 from Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, which did the original renovations on the building. Since then, the developer has signed leases accounting for more than 70,000 square feet of the 93,000-square-foot building.

The building's largest tenant, McCormick Taylor, an engineering firm serving public agencies, expanded in the building and now occupies more than 23,000 square feet on the fourth and fifth floors.

New tenants include Rosina Gourmet, a gourmet sandwich shop with a wine bar, which will open in February on the first floor; Bikram Yoga, which will open a 3,000-square-foot third floor studio in February; Peter Fillat Architects Inc., which recently moved into about 5,500 square feet of office space; and Richter Cornbrooks Gribble Inc., an architecture firm that's moving into 5,000 square feet on the third floor.

Other office tenants that have moved in since Chesapeake's purchase include Patriot Capital, AppleOne, contractor Legacy Builders, PJPA LLC, wine importer Aveniu Brands, and Chesapeake Real Estate Group.

They have joined existing retailers PNC Bank, Verizon Wireless, the Dutch Connection and Bagby Pizza Co., which opened in October, serving gourmet pizza and sandwiches.

The project has space left for two more retailers and several small office tenants, Schmidt said.

The brick building was built in 1901 for the Bagby furniture maker, which closed in 1990. After Struever Bros. renovated the building for offices, it housed advertising agency Eisner Communications, which closed in 2006, and Sylvan Learning Systems, which had consolidated into an existing office building in Harbor East.

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