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Baltimore considers building office complex Housing commissioner says agencies could save in facility near City Hall

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The city is considering building a multimillion dollar office complex near City Hall to consolidate various agencies currently leasing space throughout downtown.

A city development group led by Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III recommended to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke on Tuesday that a cost-benefit analysis be completed to study the issue.

"The basic assumption is that if we had more city-owned office space, ultimately we could save money for the city, because the government's cost of money is cheaper than the private sector," Henson said.

Although a formal list of agencies has not been compiled, it is likely that the Housing Authority of Baltimore City; the Department of Housing & Community Development; the Department of Finance; and the Law Department, among others, would be affected.

Fueling the interest in a new city building is the strong commercial office market downtown, where vacancy rates are the lowest in a decade. As the agencies relocate, city officials believe the space would be leased or purchased by private commercial clients. If the analysis determines that a city-owned building should be constructed, it would likely be roughly equivalent in size to the 12-story Sun Life Building at 20 S. Charles St., real estate analysts say.

Henson declined to comment on the potential size of the building, its cost or where funding would be obtained. He said the analysis will be completed within the next 60 days and then a formal recommendation will be submitted to Schmoke.

A modern office building the size of the Sun Life Building would cost about $14 million to build, construction experts estimate.

The group has yet to focus on a specific location for the building, although Henson said it is considering sites in Government Center surrounding City Hall.

"The other reason to consider this is because City Hall, the Benson and Wolman buildings are bulging at their seams," Henson said.

The city's decision to study constructing a building comes after rejecting nearby, available existing properties, including the 18-story Munsey Building, which is owned by John Paterakis Sr., co-owner of H&S; Bakery Inc. and a supporter and close adviser to Schmoke.

But the decision to consider building city offices could face opposition, depending on where the city elects to build them.

"I think it's a great idea to consolidate agencies into a 21st century building and not one built in the early part of the 20th century," said Robert A. Manekin, president of Casey & Associates Inc., a commercial real estate brokerage firm.

But Manekin says that consolidating the offices in the area around the Munsey Building would have a greater effect on downtown development.

Pub Date: 12/10/98

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