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Model use for old Ward building


Reusing old buildings around the city's core is already in vogue, but developers of the old Montgomery Ward & Co. warehouse want to go further, recycling everything possible within the building and making use of others' castaways for things such as carpet and wall partitions.

Developers David F. Tufaro and Samuel K. Himmelrich Jr. are leading a group that plans to spend $75 million transforming the long-abandoned behemoth in Southwest Baltimore into Montgomery Park Business Center and a model of efficient and "green" offices. The developers and other consultants said they couldn't name another area building that would have this building's collection of high- and low-tech environmental features.

"We're trying to determine all the desirable things to save," Himmelrich said yesterday during a tour of the building.

The eight-story structure, built in the 1920s as a warehouse and distribution center for Montgomery Ward, would be the city's largest office building by far at 1.3 million square feet and up to 5,000 workers. That size provides sufficient economy of scale to include some of the pricey additions.

There will be a traditional food court and auditorium in the shed where trains once unloaded goods. But there will also be a garden in a central atrium.

Tainted rainwater that typically runs off buildings and parking lots into area waterways will be captured with a "green roof" of plants, and by shrubbery in ditches along the ground, said Katrin Scholz-Barth, an environmental consultant on the project from HOK Planning Group in Washington. Excess rain collected in a roof tank will serve as toilet water.

Showers on site will encourage biking to work, the developers said, and prime parking spaces will be offered to car-poolers. Shuttle buses will connect with downtown, Baltimore-Washington International Airport and public transportation.

On the efficiency side, developers said, the building will use an air-conditioning system that uses air blown over chilled water made on the premises at night when energy is cheaper. A computerized system will turn lights on in stages as the natural light coming through banks of tall windows fades.

Windows, in their original frames, will open for fresh air.

Developers couldn't put a total cost on the green features and said upgrades will be done in stages, as tenants are signed up and money becomes available from traditional bank financing and federal sources. Asking rents are $12 to $15 a square foot, although they could rise.

The developers won a $8 million federal Brownfields Economic Development Initiative loan and a $1 million grant for rehabilitating the industrial building. They also may have access to federal and state tax credits worth up to 25 percent of their costs if the building becomes listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Tenants will be able to tap federal Empowerment Zone tax credits based on employment.

Rehab can begin, however, if the first prospective tenant, the Maryland Department of the Environment, wins approval from the state Board of Public Works to occupy about 20 percent of the building by November 2001.

Commercial real estate consultant Lewis Bolan said cost has been the barrier to creating green buildings. Developers have little incentive to pay for expensive equipment installation when savings from lower utility bills typically are passed on to tenants.

But Bolan said the space will likely appeal to technology users who seek out funky space off the beaten path. Other developers will follow if Montgomery Park is successful.

"There are tons of examples of adaptive reuse of old buildings, and piles of examples in Baltimore, but there are relatively few green buildings anywhere in the country," he said.

"The hurdles can be overcome."

Himmelrich and Tufaro are planning on the technology and telecommunications users, and others. It's just unclear how long it will take to fill the space at Monroe Street and Washington Boulevard, which is outside the central business district and not on the water.

"You have to have a certain amount of patience for something like this," Tufaro said.

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