Urban Landscape: Annie E. Casey Buildings Get Makeover; Metro West Garage Design Questioned; New Name Proposed for Stadium Authority; The Sun’s Natalie Sherman Moves On

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The Annie E. Casey Foundation building at 701 St. Paul Street.

Just in time for spring, the “flowerbox building” is getting a makeover.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation is the latest institution to launch a major renovation of its buildings in Mount Vernon.

The private charitable organization, which is dedicated to improving life for children, families and communities, has moved all of its employees out of its headquarters, the Douglas W. Nelson Building at 701 St. Paul Street, so the interior can be gutted and reconstructed.

The employees moved temporarily to a second foundation-owned building at 503 N. Charles Street, which was renovated last fall. For that work, employees temporarily moved out of the Charles Street building and doubled up with employees in the St. Paul Street building so construction could get underway.

Casey officials declined to say how much they are spending for the renovations. But the work is a sign that the organization is committed to staying in Baltimore and improving the work environment for its employees 23 years after it first moved to the city.

According to Scot Spencer, associate director of advocacy and influence, and Norris West, director of strategic communications, the renovations are being carried out to upgrade mechanical systems in the buildings and accommodate the way the organization works today.

They said the offices were originally designed to contain plenty of storage space for files and other paper records that took up a lot of room. Now that the foundation has stored that information digitally and needs less room for paper storage, it has more space for people. In addition, they said, employees tend to work more collaboratively and not always in the same spot. Casey wanted its space planning to reflect that change.

“We work differently now than when we did when we moved here in 1994, so we wanted to have the kind of space that is conducive to the way we work now,” West said. “We want to have the flexibility we need to address change.”

Annie E. Casey is “an anchor foundation in Mount Vernon,” he added. “We love this community….This is a significant renovation that shows how serious we are about staying in the area.”

Other institutions that have upgraded or are upgrading their facilities include Baltimore Center Stage, the Peabody Institute, the Walters Art Museum, the Enoch Pratt Free Library and Agora Inc. A potential buyer has also emerged for the Baltimore Sun property in the 500 and 600 blocks of N. Calvert Street and is expected to make changes there eventually.

Casey and Agora are two organizations that maintain more than one building within blocks of each other, rather than putting all of their employees in one location. Both treat Mount Vernon like a campus for their employees.

Casey’s St. Paul Street building has 32,430 square feet of space. The Charles Street building has 37,300 square feet. IA Interior Architects of Washington is Casey’s architect for both buildings. Southway Builders is the construction manager.

Georgianna Skarlatos, director of facilities and operations, is spearheading the renovation project for Casey. Students from the Maryland Institute College of Art are creating some of the artwork for Casey’s interior spaces.

West said Casey is aiming to have all work complete by July.

One change to the exterior of 701 St. Paul Street will be the addition of a canopy to the front of the building.

One feature that will not change, West said, is the seasonal use of flower boxes on the exterior. The organization always has a contractor put flower boxes in at the start of spring and allows flowering plants to grow down the sides of the building until winter. It is Casey’s version of a green wall.

Also not changing are the colors of the St. Paul Street building or the light sconces on the outside, a sculptural touch by Baltimore designer Dianne Rohrer.

A rendering of a proposed parking garage at Metro West.

Metro West Garage Design Draws Questions

A 10-level, 2,200-car garage proposed for the Metro West complex on the west side of downtown drew attention last week at a city design review session because it might have a large state flag graphic on the exterior, though that wasn’t the only aspect of the garage that received attention.

The design review panel also raised questions about the garage’s proposed size and design. Panel members questioned whether 2,200 parking spaces are needed in that area and, if they are built, whether two exits would be sufficient. Panel member Gary Bowden asked the architects to consider the idea of building a garage with level floors, rather than sloping floors, so the garage could be converted to another use at some point in the future.

The decision to build another garage also drew comments on Facebook.

“A new 10 story, 2,200 car garage next to an existing 10-story garage next to a Lexington Market garage next to another surface lot and garage is the worst imaginable use a block from a Metro station in a downtown of a city,” wrote Facebook commenter Jed Weeks.

The panel ultimately voted not to approve the preliminary design until their questions were addressed. A member of the development team, Larry Boltansky, said the developers would take the panel’s comments into consideration.

“We’ll go back to the drawing board,” he said. “We think it’s an important project.”

The Sun’s Natalie Sherman Moving On

The Baltimore Sun’s highly respected development reporter, Natalie Sherman, is moving to New York, where she will write for the British Broadcasting Corp (BBC). Sherman, a Baltimore native and a member of the Bryn Mawr School Class of 2008, is the third reporter to leave the Sun in the past month, after education reporter Erica Green and crime reporter Justin George. Sherman’s last day at the Sun is Friday.

Maryland Construction Authority Proposed

Just before Opening Day of the baseball season, a bill in the state legislature proposes changing the name of the Maryland Stadium Authority to the Maryland Construction Authority, in recognition of the agency’s activities in many areas besides building stadiums.

The bill, SB 994, also would allow the authority to oversee construction of schools in other state jurisdictions besides Baltimore City. As of today, the bill has not moved out of the Budget and Taxation Committee.

Michael Frenz, executive director of the stadium authority, said at a recent board meeting that he understands the desire to have the agency use its expertise to build schools in other jurisdictions, and he is not opposed to that, but he said he doesn’t see the need for a name change after three decades.

“We don’t necessarily like the idea of changing the name,” he said. “For 30 years, you have [built up] good will and name recognition. From a marketing sense, it doesn’t make sense to me.”

Plan to Expand the Hotel Brexton Not Moving Ahead

The Hotel Brexton.

A plan to add more guest rooms to the Hotel Brexton is not moving ahead, after owner Richard Naing decided to put the building at 868 Park Avenue up for sale. General manager Robert Glock said neighbors on Tyson Street wanted the project scaled down, and the project would not have been economically feasible.

Carver Center Celebration to be Held March 25

The Carver Center Foundation presents the 14th annual Carver Center Celebration, a fundraiser for the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology, on Saturday, March 25, from 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. at the school at 938 York Road in Towson. Admission is $70 or $80 at the door. Admission for students, faculty and alumni is $25 or $35 at the door. For more information and tickets, click here.

Varied Reactions to ‘The Ground’ at Hutzler’s

People have had a wide range of reactions to “The Ground,” the art exhibit by Michael Jones McKean on display at the Hutzler Brothers Palace Building through May 19. According to Deana Haggag, head of The Contemporary, the sponsoring museum, people have asked whether it was a new Rite Aid, a spa, a set for a fashion show or some kind of commentary on Sodom and Gomorrah. Haggag told a recent audience that any of those interpretations could be valid.

Ed Gunts

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