Huge distribution warehouse planned for former GM site

The owner of the former General Motors factory site in Southeast Baltimore has applied for a city permit to build a huge warehouse that would employ up to 2,600 people, according to documents filed with the city planning department.

The 2.8 million-square-foot site, which is owned by Indiana-based Duke Realty Corp., would be home to a 1 million-square-foot facility with nearly 2,000 parking spots. The documents say the one-story warehouse would be used as a distribution center.

Councilman James B. Kraft, whose Southeast Baltimore district includes the Broening Highway property, said he was bullish about the plan. "This is a major coup for the city of Baltimore," Kraft said. "It's going to be a tremendous number of jobs."

GM — once a backbone of Baltimore's blue-collar economy — eliminated more than 1,100 local jobs when it shuttered the assembly plant in 2005. Opened in 1934, the plant employed as many as 7,000 workers who produced some of GM's most popular cars, including the Chevrolet Impala, Biscayne and Monte Carlo and Pontiac Grand Prix.

Kraft said the developer wants to break ground in September with plans for the warehouse to open in the fall of 2014. Kraft said Duke was developing the site for a prospective tenant, whom he declined to name. Duke Realty did not return messages seeking comment. Kimberly A. Clark, vice president of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's quasi-public development arm, said Duke was "currently trying to recruit tenants for the site." She declined to say more.

State and local leaders have searched since the assembly line closed to find a developer to revive the 184-acre industrial property.

Duke, which owns, operates and manages industrial, medical and office space in 18 U.S. cities, purchased the site in 2006. The real estate investment company works with such businesses as, Crate and Barrel, Navistar and Panera Bread.

Since buying the Baltimore property, Duke converted it into the Chesapeake Commerce Center by demolishing GM's old facilities, building two industrial buildings and selling some of the land, according to the company's website. The land is bordered by Broening Highway on the east, and roadways and railroads to the south and west.

Four companies employ 500 people on the site. Another 122 acres is available for development.

The state Department of Business and Economic Development provided Duke $680,000 for site assessment and remediation in two grants provided in 2006 and 2008, said agency spokeswoman Karen Glenn Hood.

The property is located in the city's enterprise zone, which makes it eligible for a 10-year property tax credit and tax breaks for wages paid to new employees.

It's unclear whether the city or state would offer further economic development incentives because such negotiations are typically kept confidential until deals are finalized.

News of the planned development came to light when the City Council's legislative committee, chaired by Kraft, approved a bill Tuesday that would lessen construction costs in the city. Currently, the city charges $20 in construction fees per each 1,000 cubic feet of gross volume for new construction. The bill approved by Kraft's committee would exempt the volume of a floor that is above 20 feet off the ground.

The planned warehouse at the former GM site would be 50 feet in height, according to plans.

"The failure to cap the height of a floor creates a cost disincentive to the construction of a facility such as a warehouse or manufacturing facility," wrote the city's budget chief, Andrew Kleine, in support of the legislative change. "Given the 11 percent unemployment rate in the city, these types of businesses are highly desirable."

The legislative change will go before the full council next month for approval.

Brenda McKenzie, president of the BDC, said the change was important to attract business to Baltimore stemming from the expansion of the Panama Canal and improvements to the Seagirt Marine Terminal.

"With this new port business, the availability of warehouse and industrial space within Baltimore City becomes very important in the retention, expansion and attraction of industrial businesses and jobs," she wrote.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the city was eager to encourage job growth at the old GM site.

"I have made growing Baltimore City's economy a major priority," Rawlings-Blake said. "The city has been working with Duke Realty to ensure they have the necessary tools to remain competitive in attracting new tenants and creating jobs for city residents."

Kaliope Parthemos, the city's deputy chief for economic development said the pending legislation puts Baltimore's construction fees in line with neighboring jurisdictions so the city can better compete for business development.

Parthemos said Duke Realty first approached the city with the request to lower the fee several years ago, and the BDC pushed for the change recently.

"We are excited that Duke Realty plans on bringing jobs back to that location, and we will assist them with regard to trying to find an appropriate tenant in any way possible."

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