A cluster of vacant industrial buildings that Baltimore City purchased for $2 million in 2005 have been sold to developer P. David Bramble for $1.
”We are excited to bring this to you,” Colin Tarbert, president of the quasi-public Baltimore Development Corp., told the Board of Estimates before explaining how the blighted warehouses along Amtrak’s right-of-way in West Baltimore would be taken off municipal hands by a businessman “who I think you all know.”
For nearly two decades, the city has been looking for a buyer for the 2.2-acre site that would, in BDC’s words, “achieve the objectives of job creation, tax generation, attractive design and a redevelopment that fits within the context of the neighborhood.”
What it got – and what Mayor Brandon Scott and the BOE accepted on Wednesday without comment – is quite different.
Bramble plans to replace a block-long, five-story warehouse with a small administration building, drive-through maintenance bay and storage facility for P. Flanigan & Sons, the paving contractor.
The new facilities, which will allow Flanigan to expand its asphalt and concrete aggregate business on North Monroe Street, will cost about $6.8 million and “create 10 full-time jobs,” Tarbert said.
The selloff to Bramble, a local developer who recently acquired the vacant Harborplace pavilions at the Inner Harbor, ends with a whimper an ambitious plan to spur economic revitalization in an impoverished corner of West Baltimore.
Business That Never Came
The site was earmarked for new housing, light manufacturing and retail and office space by the Martin O’Malley administration after the Acme Supermarket chain abandoned its warehouse at 2120 West Lafayette Avenue.
The surrounding communities of Greenlawn, Bridgeview and Sandtown were listed as having some of the highest unemployment and poverty rates in the city.
The warehouse and two supplemental buildings were purchased in January 2005 from Bernard Kapiloff, a politically influential plastic surgeon and publisher of the Montgomery County Sentinel.
Although Kapiloff had let the buildings fall into disrepair, sparking various disputes and lawsuits with his insurers, O’Malley offered him top public dollars ($1,925,500).
Christening the site as the “Acme Business Center,” the BDC marketed the property as ideally suited for entrepreneurial start-ups and for upscale housing for Washington-bound commuters, in close proximity to the MARC West Baltimore train station.
But no private party came forward with plans for light manufacturing or new housing or commercial outlets. (Emanuel Tire did acquire a long-leased warehouse to store its scrap tire collection.)
Forlorn and forgotten, the empty buildings underwent accelerated “demolition by neglect” – broken windows, rotted wiring, burst pipes, collapsed roofs and rampant vandalism over the next decade – capped by a devastating fire in 2014 that resulted in the teardown of the warehouse at 2201 Mosher Street.
Razing that structure alone cost the city $400,000, and soon it was on the hook for “hundreds of thousands of dollars in maintenance costs to address public safety issues,” according to a BDC memo to the spending board.
Descending to Negative Value
In 2019, the warehouse at 1001 North Smallwood Street caught on fire and was condemned.
With an independent appraisal finding demolition to be the “highest and best use,” the business center now carried a “negative property value,” Tarbert said, given the seven-figure-cost of dismantling the sprawling Acme warehouse.
(The Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation currently values the warehouse at $441,500 – $232,600 for land and $208,900 for improvements – none of which translates into property tax revenues because it is city owned.)
In 2021, two plans came forward.
Bramble proposed tearing down the warehouses, replaced by Flanigan’s expanded materials yard and admin building.
Amatus Health, an Owings Mills company that operates detox centers nationwide, wanted to construct sober living housing and a drug and rehab facility on the land.
The BDC board of directors met in June 2021 to evaluate the plans.
The meeting was closed to the public because confidential and proprietary information was being aired, a BDC spokeswoman told the Baltimore Business Journal.
Why Bramble was selected over Amatus to exclusively negotiate the terms of the sale was never disclosed by the BDC board, nor by Tarbert at the Board of Estimates meeting.
But Tarbert did note that both respondents offered the city the same purchase price for those 2.2 acres – $1.