The vacant Hecht Co. store at Howard and Lexington streets will be the next headquarters for Baltimore's Police Department.
In announcing the decision yesterday, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said he was guided by the Police Department's needs, cost factors and the city's economic development agenda.
"Safety is a critical issue for the 1990s and the city's future," the mayor said. "Locating the new police headquarters on Howard Street is a symbolic and tangible investment in the Howard Street corridor and in the continued viability of downtown as the economic heart of the state."
The conversion is expected to cost at least $20 million and bring more than 2,000 people to the Market Center area. It will be the latest in a series of investments designed to revitalize Howard Street, once Baltimore's traditional retail corridor.
Others include the $105 million Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the opening of the state's light-rail line, the $39 million City Crescent federal office complex and the proposed $150 million expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center.
Mayoral spokesman Clint Coleman said the city is negotiating with the owners of the Hecht Co. building about whether to buy or lease it. Although the exact timetable for the move from 601 E. Fayette St. has not been determined, he said, "we'd like it to happen as soon as possible."
City officials last year received more than 20 proposals from developers interested in replacing the current police headquarters, which needs costly asbestos removal work.
Business owners throughout the Market Center area lobbied heavily for the mayor to select the Hecht Co. site. They say the presence of the police headquarters will help the area retain businesses and lure new ones.
"We're glad to see it happen," said Michael Shaivitz, manager of Lee Furniture Co. on North Eutaw Street and treasurer of the Market Center Association. "It's going to bring safety, security and people into the area. We hope it will also bring more developers downtown to turn the Howard Street area into a major retail district, as it once was."
The 280,000-square-foot Hecht building is owned by Great Northeast Land and Machinery Inc. of McLean, Va., a partnership of two development firms, Petrie Dierman Kughn and Partners TTC and Ted Georgelas & Sons L.C.
The city already has a long-term lease for the top three floors of the building, which are occupied by city and state agencies. Great Northeast has offered to convert the entire building for use by the Police Department and then sell or lease it to the city. Under the group's proposal, Anderson, Cooper and Georgelas of McLean would be the architect, and the work would take 12 to 15 months to complete.