The Maryland Department of the Environment plans to become the first tenant in the long-vacant Montgomery Ward warehouse in Southwest Baltimore, officials said yesterday.
The state has reached an agreement to enter into a 10-year lease with Montgomery Park developers Sam Himmelrich Jr. and David F. Tufaro, relocating the MDE in the 1.3 million-square-foot building.
The MDE would occupy about 20 percent of the eight-story building, at Washington Boulevard and South Monroe Street, at a cost of $3.6 million a year.
The Ward complex, a 1925 landmark that was designated as a federal brownfields site, may become one of the region's largest office and high-tech employment centers. The developers plan to turn the sprawling building - one of the city's most visible eyesores - into a $75 million business and technology park, housing more than 5,000 employees.
The MDE lease would become effective November 2001, and have a five-year renewal option, officials said.
"We're thrilled," Himmelrich said. "Architecturally, it's very exciting."
The lease must be approved by the three-member Board of Public Works and is on the Sept. 20 agenda.
The MDE and its 900 employees have had their headquarters at the Point Breeze Business Center, 2500 Broening Highway, in Southeast Baltimore, since 1988. The department is moving because it needs more office, storage and laboratory space to accommodate its growing needs, officials said.
MDE will occupy 262,300 square feet of the Ward building and have 1,000 parking spaces.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley - both of whom are in Ireland - released statements saying the new business park is in keeping with the governor's anti-sprawl Smart Growth program and will help invigorate Southwest Baltimore.
"The relocation of the Department of the Environment to the Montgomery Park Business Center will provide the kind of long-term commitment we are looking for to help stabilize the Washington Boulevard corridor," O'Malley said in the statement. "It will provide the impetus for expansion of the Digital Harbor beyond the Inner Harbor waterfront."
In his statement, Glendening said: "By reinvesting in an existing community and reusing an older building, we are making sound economic and environmental decisions that will benefit both the city and the state."
Last month, Montgomery Park developers received $8 million worth of a federal Brownfields Economic Development Initiative grant and a $1 million loan to redevelop the building.