BGE to paint murals on landmark gas tanks at Baltimore's southern gateway

BGE has big plans to decorate a southern gateway to Baltimore

On one calm April day, crews will arrive in South Baltimore and tie into man lifts, then rise 100 feet to start painting blue crabs, racehorses and bombs bursting on the city skyline.

Their canvas will be three gas storage-tanks that stand near where Interstate 395 sprouts north out of Interstate 95 at the city's southern gateway.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. announced plans Tuesday to dress up its prominent tank farm with the art project, which also marks the company's 200th birthday.

"No customer dollars are being used. It's a goodwill project," said Aaron Koos, a BGE spokesman. "It's our way of saying thank you to our customers."

BGE has contracted Bethlehem, Pa.-based G.C. Zarnas & Co. Inc. to paint murals on the tanks. The painting company has an office in Sparrows Point and plans to begin work on calm, dry days this month.

Drivers along the highways may soon glimpse the work: first power washing, then painting base layers and stenciling the designs. It's all expected to finish in June.

"It gives us a better roadside presence," said Tom Noonan, president of Visit Baltimore. "People are driving by the city, they just don't see these white tankers. They see these images that are reflective of Baltimore. It kind of blends in the fabric of the city."

The three tanks combined can hold about 12 million gallons of chilled natural gas, about the quantity used by the utility's customers on two average winter days, Koos said.

The tanks are used to supplement the flow of gas from interstate pipelines. Inside, gas is chilled about 260 degrees below zero and liquefied.

"Increasingly, groups like BGE and Under Armour are taking infrastructure and making it art. So it's attractive as well as functional," said Michael Evitts, the spokesman for Downtown Baltimore. "Things like that, they're not just visibly interesting, they send a message. ... They are part of a working city, but a city that increasingly cares about how it looks and presents itself."

The tanks sit at BGE's Spring Gardens campus in South Baltimore. The campus, among BGE's longest continuously operating sites, opened in 1855.

Today, it remains a hub for natural gas and electric operations and hosts a customer-contact center. More than 600 of the company's 3,200 employees work there.

"BGE has long been a strong corporate partner for our community, and the mayor looks forward to the company's efforts to help improve the appearance of the city," said Howard Libit, the spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

He said the project complements the mayor's plan to beautify the southern gateway.

The murals were designed for "leaving a lasting, colorful and welcome impression on people coming and going," Koos said.

But they also mark a milestone for the company founded in Baltimore. In June 1816, The Gas Light Company of Baltimore, the predecessor to BGE, was formed as the nation's first gas company, according to BGE. It soon began plans for streetlights in Baltimore.

Two centuries later, BGE has more than 1 million electricity customers and 650,000 natural gas customers.

Company officials also considered using a clipper ship as a mural, but decided on the crabs, racehorses and scene from the "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Crews from G.C. Zarnas will spray industrial paint that falls dry as dust. The flakes will be captured on plastic spread around the tanks, said Lee Zarnas, assistant vice president at the firm.

While each tank stands about 100 feet tall, that's just a small job for the company that once painted antennas on Chicago's Willis Tower — formerly the Sears Tower and still the nation's second-tallest building.

As the painting begins, photos and videos will be posted online at BGE.com/MuralProject.

This story has been updated to correct inaccurate information supplied to The Sun about the tanks' capacity.

tprudente@baltsun.com

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