Merchants to expand on former GM site

The Baltimore Sun

The 80-year-old Merchants Terminal Corp. is expanding with a $25 million development of a new perishable foods distribution warehouse in Chesapeake Commerce Center, the former site of the General Motors van assembly plant on Broening Highway in Southeast Baltimore.

The refrigerated warehouse company said yesterday that it bought just over 13 acres in the new industrial park from Duke Realty Corp., which purchased the closed GM complex, located next to the Seagirt Marine Terminal, in early 2006.

Baltimore-based Merchants, which is wholly owned by Hoffberger Holdings Inc. and has warehouses employing about 120 people in Highlandtown, Jessup, Landover and New Castle, Del., did not disclose the purchase price.

Merchants plans to break ground in September on a 155,000-square-foot environmentally friendly warehouse that would open by July 2009, said Harry Halpert, president of Merchants. The company expects to expand that building with another 120,000 square feet in a second phase, possibly within three years, Halpert said.

"Our business is growing, and the site selection was based on the location of the Chesapeake Commerce Center and the fact that the port of Baltimore itself is a prime location to help us grow our international business," which now represents about 45 percent of the company's business and is growing, Halpert said.

The location near Seagirt will allow the company to bring in containers from the port, empty them and quickly return them to the port.

Halpert said the company has been looking for expansion space for about seven years but has been priced out of some potential sites in areas such as Canton and Port Covington that were being bought up by commercial developers.

Chesapeake Commerce Center's access to rail, the port and highways make it "the best industrial land in the city from which to do distribution," Halpert said.

The new warehouse will feature "green" technology, such as a white roof to reflect solar energy, and reduce dependence on electricity and computer technology that will help the company monitor and avoid peak-use hours on the power grid.

Duke earlier this year completed two buildings at the industrial park, a 117,600-square-foot building that is 50 percent leased to Johns Hopkins Home Care Group, and a 342,000-square-foot, cross-dock distribution center.

"Merchants Terminal coming to the Chesapeake Commerce Center site validates what Duke's vision was in developing this project as an industrial property adjacent to the port of Baltimore," said John Macsherry, vice president of leasing and development in Duke's Baltimore office.

Halpert said the new warehouse will employ about 30. The company's location near the port should help boost business and employment at the port and in jobs related to the port, said Kim Clark, executive vice president of the Baltimore Development Corp.

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