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Baltimore Police Central District station could open in old Baltimore Sun building by July

Board of Estimates voted to approve a lease to move the Baltimore Police Department to the former Baltimore Sun building at 501 N. Calvert Street.

The Baltimore Police Central District offices could open in The Baltimore Sun’s former building downtown by July, officials announced Wednesday.

The city’s spending panel approved the three-year, multi-million dollar lease over an objection that the project is too costly to undertake at a time when Baltimore is facing a major budget deficit because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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The roughly 170 officers assigned to the Central District have been working out of a cramped space in department headquarters for more than a year after its former offices were shut down more for emergency repairs.

Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said moving from their “dilapidated and deteriorating” former office to a soon-to-renovated building sends an important message.

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“If we expect professionalism from our officers," he said, “we owe them no less than a professional work environment in return and a place that they can now call home, a place they can now have pride in.”

It’s unclear how much the renovations will cost the city. A preliminary draft of the city’s 2021 budget states that police will use $1.2 million in asset forfeiture funds to help pay for the move.

Comptroller Joan Pratt said during Wednesday’s Board of Estimates meeting that she could not vote in favor of the lease because of the cost. Atapco Properties, which owns the building, will charge between $1.7 million to $2.6 million a year in rent, along with some additional charges.

“I’m concerned this lease is not a good value for the taxpayers,” Pratt said.

Baltimore officials expect to end the fiscal year with a $42.3 million deficit, as restrictions intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus upend the local economy. The city projects it will bring in about $100 million less in revenue next fiscal year, too.

Young said the new building will end up saving the city money. In addition to the Central District, other public safety units will move into the renovated building at 501 N. Calvert St., including fire department medics, the Warrant Apprehension Task Force and the Citywide Robbery unit.

Consolidating those operations into one building is estimated to save the city at least $800,000 in deferred maintenance over the next four years. The facilities that the units used to occupy can also be monetized in the future, Young said.

Harrison said the new location will improve public safety in the downtown neighborhoods surrounding the building.

Shelonda Stokes, interim Downtown Partnership of Baltimore president, said in the statement that the new location “will have a positive impact on both downtown and surrounding neighborhoods while also benefitting Central District operations.”

Young said the move is also a symbolic one.

“We’re moving from outdated buildings to a centralized location,” he said, “a location that once housed one of the city’s chief accountability mechanisms: the press.”

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