GM expects to fast-track sale of plant in Baltimore

General Motors, which closed its 70-year-old Baltimore manufacturing plant in May, expects to fast-track the sale of the 185-acre industrial property on the city's eastern fringe.

Dozens of developers have expressed interest or toured the Broening Highway plant, and real estate sources expect at least a dozen groups to submit proposals to GM by Monday, a deadline set by the auto manufacturer.

"This piece of property has gotten one of the highest levels of interest, from a developer standpoint, of any property we've put on the market recently," said John McDonald, a GM spokesman.

He acknowledged an "early August" deadline but wouldn't confirm it was Monday. "This is a property we don't have to worry will sit around. It will move very quickly."

McDonald noted the plant's prime location, the scarcity of large tracts of developable land in the region and a strong push by state officials as reasons. Normally it takes the automaker three to five years to sell surplus property.

The field of candidates is expected to include institutional investors - some with local or other developers as partners - large national developers, regional developers and real estate investment trusts.

In a request for proposals, GM has not specified or restricted uses for the Broening Highway site, McDonald said.

"We don't go into this with preconceived ideas," said McDonald. But, he added, "It's in a highly industrialized area next to Seagirt [Marine Terminal]. The idea of putting residential in there probably isn't very viable, and we've noted that in the [request for proposal]. But beyond that, we're open to suggestions and ideas the developers might have."

Aris Melisseratos, secretary of the state Department of Business and Economic Development, said yesterday that "GM has respected our wishes" in its request to developers.

State development officials want to see redevelopment that will create at least 2,500 jobs. The redevelopment could include several midrise office buildings to house port management functions and possibly tenants who are now in the state-owned World Trade Center, which the state has on the market.

The project might also include port-related manufacturing and distribution buildings on the site of the main GM van assembly plant, Melisseratos said.

"That's been our vision from the beginning, and GM has spelled that out to developer bidders," he said.

"Our objective is to get jobs on the site and for optimal use to service the port and Baltimore City's tax base," Melisseratos said.

Real estate professionals and state officials say the GM plant most likely will be reborn as an industrial park, potentially with a mix of port-related warehouse, distribution and office uses, a plan that would require demolishing the existing plant, which has 50 football fields of floor space.

"Most plans have involved scrapping the existing [building] and redeveloping it with new industrial product," said David W. Baird, a senior vice president and director of Trammell Crow Co., the real estate brokerage, which is bidding on the GM property. "The existing buildings are highly inefficient and virtually unusable for anything other than auto manufacturing."

Some developers, he said, may be proposing a small residential component, but he said the site, for the most part, is not conducive to new residential development.

Developer interest is strong, he said, because "the location is terrific, on an exit on I-95, and the scale and layout is very conducive to industrial redevelopment. It could support several million square feet of new product. The availability of land for industrial development along I-95 is so scarce, so it's a supply and demand. And the port proximity is important."

MIE Properties Inc. also likely will submit a proposal, probably to develop flex office space as part of a larger team, said Gerard J. Wit, a MIE vice president of marketing.

Wit said the site could support about 200,000 square feet to 250,000 square feet of flex office space, which could create about 625 jobs.

"It's a substantial piece" of land, he said. "It's phenomenally well-located, at the confluence of two major interstates," Interstate 95 and Interstate 895.

As for residential use, "I don't see that at all," he said. "There are plenty of other residential options. This land is zoned industrial. With a shortage of industrial space in the city and a shortage of port real estate, turning it over to anything other than port-related warehouse and distribution and manufacturing would be the wrong thing to do."

Edwin F. Hale Sr., a banker who has extensive developments in nearby Canton, said he had hoped to propose developing the GM site for an arena that would become the new home of the Baltimore Blast soccer team, which he owns, and other mixed-use development.

But after reviewing the request for proposal, he said, it appears GM has no interest in residential development and little interest in retail, hotels, motels, office and restaurants.

"They want it to be industrial," said Hale, chairman and chief executive of First Mariner Bancorp. of Baltimore. But "industry is not coming here. Industry is leaving in droves. The highest and best use is mixed, retail, residential and an arena. It's a palette; you could make it into something terrific."

Before selling the property, GM has agreed to begin cleaning up and closing a hazardous-waste storage facility on the site, said Richard McIntire, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

"They are taking care of what could be a potential problem, or at least beginning before the sale," McIntire said.

Because of that waste facility, he said, the site would not qualify for the state's brownfields program, a voluntary program in which a property owner that cleans up a former industrial site can get state certification clearing the land for redevelopment and protecting against future liability.

Even so, he said, at this point, "there does not appear to be anything at that site that would preclude it from being redeveloped in any particular fashion."