Four months after representatives for the Baltimore Sun disclosed that their Calvert Street headquarters is for sale, a potential buyer has surfaced.
Renee Mutchnik, director of marketing for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, said on Monday that as of today, Tribune Media Real Estate Holdings, the entity handling the sale, has not notified Sun representatives about a sale being concluded.
But others familiar with the transaction say local developer Mark Sapperstein is negotiating to buy the main property at 501 N. Calvert Street and a garage with street level office space at 601 N. Calvert Street. They say the sale price is about $16 million and Sun representatives intend to lease back space in the main building for use as the newspaper’s offices, in an arrangement similar to the way the Sun leases back the printing plant in Port Covington that it sold in 2014 to a group headed by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank. The Calvert Street property contains 450,000 square feet of space and houses offices for City Paper as well as The Baltimore Sun.
Reached Monday, Sapperstein confirmed that he has been negotiating to buy the property but declined to discuss specifics of the sale or his vision for the location. He confirmed that the Sun would continue to occupy space on the property.
“You used the right word for it, potential,” he said. “We don’t have a signed contract yet. In the next 30 days, we should know whether we have a deal or not.”
According to a message to the staff sent in March by Editor and Publisher Trif Alatzas, the newspaper has been leasing its Calvert Street space from Tribune Media since 2014, and “a sale would not impact our current lease agreement to continue occupying the building.” According to state records, Tribune purchased the property in 2008 for $15.2 million. In June Tribune Publishing, the Sun’s parent, changed its name to Tronc, which stands for Tribune online content.
Sapperstein heads 28 Walker Development and has worked on numerous large projects in Baltimore, including Canton Crossing in Canton and McHenry Row in Locust Point. The Sun is the sort of multi-phase, mixed use urban development in which he specializes.
If Sapperstein wants to enlarge the footprint of the Sun property, he might look into acquiring the city-owned service drive on Guilford Avenue that provides access to the east side of the Sun building. The service drive once was used to bring newsprint to the property by rail car, but the rail line was discontinued after the printing press was moved to Port Covington.
At least one former Sun publisher considered attempting to buy the service drive from the city to expand the Sun’s boundaries. But the publisher didn’t want to be in a position of negotiating a land purchase from the city at the same time the paper’s news and editorial staffers were writing about city government. As a developer, Sapperstein would not have the same issue.
31 Light Street may become apartments
An office building at Light and Lombard streets would become Baltimore’s next apartment building, if the city’s zoning board waives a requirement to provide parking on site.
According to documents on file with the city’s Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals, WRH Property Holdings Inc. has a contract to buy the upper four floors of the building known as 31 Light Street and intends to renovate those floors for residential use. The floors would be sold as a condominium in a “recently established condominium regime consisting of the top four floors in the building,” according to information provided to the zoning board.
WRH plans to create 8 “dwelling units” and 24 efficiency units. SETO Architects of Baltimore, founded by Justin Seto, would be the architect. Caroline Hecker of Rosenberg Martin Greenberg is the attorney for WRH. A group called 31 LS, LLC is the current owner and has maintained the building as offices with a pharmacy at street level.
According to the city’s zoning code, one parking space is required for every four dwelling units and one parking is required for every eight efficiency units in a B-5-2 zoning district such as the area where 31 Light Street is. The purchasers argue that the building was constructed before the zoning code was enacted and the property has no room for on site parking, so they are seeking a variance that would allow them to turn the building into apartments without providing on site parking.
Past projects by WRH Holdings, headed by Walid Hajj, include apartments at 344 N. Charles Street and 10 West Chase Street. The zoning board will meet on August 23 to consider its request involving 31 Light Street.
Peabody Apartments sell for $2.25 million
The Peabody Apartments, a 15-unit apartment building at 201-205 East 30th Street in Charles Village, sold this month at auction for $2.25 million. A seven-unit apartment building at 218 and 220 East Cross Street in Federal Hill sold at auction for $892,500. Two apartment buildings at 221 and 223 East Preston Street in Mid Town Belvedere sold at auction for $483,000. Alex Cooper Auctioneers handled the sales.