Should partly vacant Camden Station be rented out as office space, or should the state hold out for a one-of-a-kind use that could draw people to Oriole Park at Camden Yards? What would that use be? What role should the Baltimore Orioles play in making the decision?
These questions were the subject of a lengthy discussion during a recent meeting of the Maryland Stadium Authority, the state agency that operates the 85-acre Camden Yards sports complex and serves as landlord for Oriole Park, M&T Bank Stadium, the B&O Warehouse and the historic Camden Station at 301 W. Camden Street.
The basement and first level of the 1857 train station have been vacant since the Sports Legends Museum closed abruptly in October 2015, after the stadium authority declined to give it a new long-term lease. Those levels together have 22,551 square feet of space. The upper two floors are occupied by Geppi’s Entertainment Museum, which is on a month-to-month lease. They contain 16,055 square feet. The total square footage of the building is 38,606 square feet.
State officials and stadium authority board members were initially optimistic that they would quickly find another tenant to replace the Sports Legends Museum and start paying the state rent. During previous meetings, state officials have briefed board members about potential tenants for the Sports Legends space.
But with another baseball season about to begin and no tenant in sight, board members spent time during their last meeting discussing how the state should proceed. Nothing was resolved, but the discussion provided a glimpse of the inner workings of the stadium authority by showing how state officials are grappling with the choice of either generating revenue for a real-estate asset or holding out for the right tenant to complement Oriole Park.
Part of the discussion involved the role of the Orioles and whether the team’s owners have any right to veto a candidate the stadium authority board would be willing to accept. No one from the Orioles was present at the meeting to talk about the team’s perspective.
A potential tenant, a private company named Bambeco, wanted to move its headquarters into Camden Station in 2016. Talks got serious, and company representatives met with the Orioles, but a lease was never signed. Bambeco subsequently moved to office space on Pratt Street in the Inner Harbor.
At last week’s meeting, board members were told stadium authority representatives have been speaking with several prospects. In one case, a developer has said he would like to renovate the whole building and lease it out as office space. He wants to take the lead on the project and do all of the redevelopment work and find tenants himself.
The agency is also talking to businessman Steve Geppi about continuing to rent space, the board was told.
Board member Leonard Attman asked about setting deadlines for a decision and inviting prospective developers to make a presentation to the board, the way the Ravens recently presented their plans for upgrading M&T Bank Stadium. Attman also asked about the stadium authority’s practice of consulting with the Orioles and whether that is slowing down the leasing effort.
“At a point in time, to have the building vacant and say, ‘We’re waiting for an answer from the Orioles’…is not fair to the state,” he said.
Thomas Kelso, the stadium authority’s chairman, said no proposals are far enough along at this point for anyone to consider. “To the best of my knowledge, no one has presented anything to the Orioles’ ownership. They may have talked to the Orioles, but they haven’t presented to the Orioles ownership. If there is something that comes before the board for us to consider, we’ll consider it. But I don’t want to speculate on that because I don’t have anything to consider.”
Kelso also addressed the question of whether the Orioles have the right to veto an offer for Camden Station that comes before the stadium authority board from another prospective tenant. He said his view is that the team’s lease does not specifically allow the Orioles to veto another tenant, but because they are the main tenant of Oriole Park, the stadium authority wants to consult them.
“Is there any provision in their lease that gives them some kind of approval right?” Kelso asked. “The answer is no. Is the question that they are the most important tenant and their lease is up in five years? The answer is yes. But the board doesn’t have any obligation to do what the Orioles want. But the Orioles have the right to do what they want, five years from now. We have a fiduciary responsibility to think about all of Camden Yards.”
Kelso said it makes sense for any prospective tenant of Camden Station to get the Orioles’ support for what they want to do.
“I would try to suggest, if there is somebody who has a great idea, that they make the case that it makes sense for them [the Orioles.] That is the path of least resistance. I think it would be preferable for the tenant to make their own case. Or the stadium authority could approve it and…advance it to the Orioles with our endorsement. I don’t know that until we get something tangible in front of us.”
Kelso urged the board not to make a hasty decision and accept the first paying tenant that comes along.
“Let’s do it with thought. Let’s do it with purpose,” he said. “Let’s not do it with exasperation because the building is partly empty – and it’s only just partly empty.”
Attman asked if a tenant could go in temporarily, perhaps from May to September, to generate some revenue for the state and bring activity to the building.
“None of us likes looking at a leasing report and knowing that part of the building sits empty,” Kelso said. “But nothing has come before the board. And until something comes to the board, it’s just speculation. We might find that we like something so much that we would act even if the Orioles don’t give their consent. I know the Orioles want the best for this complex. They’re not working contrary to what we want to achieve. Our relationship with the Orioles is excellent…There is a lot on both sides to consider.”
Reached after the meeting, one of the principals of the Orioles agreed that there is a lot to consider.
Louis Angelos, ownership representative for the Orioles, a member of the executive management team and son of Orioles chairman and CEO Peter Angelos, said he believes the challenge for Camden Station is not just finding a tenant to fill the space, but finding the tenant who will be the best fit for the station and add to the entire Camden Yards complex. He said he has tried to put himself in the place of a ballpark visitor who sees a sign for an office tenant at Camden Station and wonders why a more exciting use wasn’t found for such a prominent location.
Angelos said Kelso, the stadium authority chairman, and Michael Frenz, the stadium authority’s executive director, have met with his father to discuss his vision for the ballpark on several occasions as part of a “continuing dialogue” between the Orioles and the stadium authority. He said he believes the stadium authority and the Orioles “have been and should continue working together to do what’s best for Oriole Park at Camden Yards over the long term.”
Angelos said the former train station poses certain leasing challenges because it is close to the ballpark, but occupants can’t see the playing field from inside. He also noted that parking is restricted on the adjacent lot.
Angelos said the team has considered a number of ideas for Camden Station over the years. They have included offices and storage space for the team, a white tablecloth restaurant, a public attraction such as the Orioles Hall of Fame, a VIP lounge for National Anthem and seventh-inning performers and a television studio for pre- and post-game interviews. He said the team has also asked some of its consultants for their advice on what should go in the station, and they have warned against putting in office tenants.
Angelos said the team would support the idea of a master planning effort for Camden Yards to help determine who would be the best occupant for Camden Station and elsewhere on the property. He noted that the station occupies a key location between Oriole Park and the Convention Center, the west side of downtown and the MARC commuter rail station planned for the east side of the B&O warehouse. He said he believes decisions made about the station could have widespread implications for the surrounding area – and the right tenant could strengthen the entire area.
What does Angelos think would be best for the station?
“A use that complements this great ballpark and one that enhances the tremendous asset that Oriole Park at Camden Yards represents to the city, the state and the entire region,” he said.
“Everybody wants to do something interesting and compelling with the station,” he added. “No one wants it to stay empty…But to do something compelling is a challenge…We want to do this right….We think it should be studied and that we shouldn’t do something hastily just to do something.”
Stadium authority officials have been talking about launching a master planning effort for Camden Yards, involving the state and the Orioles, but no funds have been allocated and no consultants have been identified for the work.
“We absolutely want to do it,” Angelos said of the master planning effort. “It’s just a matter of when.”
Ultimately, “It’s not about haggling over a lease,” he said. “It’s about what’s best” for Camden Yards.
Trader Joe’s Moves to The Shops at Kenilworth
Trader Joe’s is opening a new store on Friday, March 17, at The Shops at Kenilworth, 800 Kenilworth Drive in Towson.
The store is part of a multi-phase expansion of The Shops at Kenilworth. It will replace a Trader Joe’s at Towson Circle, which is scheduled to close March 16.
Howard Bank is Opening a Branch in Remington
Howard Bank plans to open a 2,000-square-foot branch by this summer in the Remington Row apartment community at 2700 Remington Avenue.
“We like the energy in Remington and its potential for growth,” said bank chairman, CEO and president Mary Ann Scully, in a statement.
Manekins Gives a ‘Lessons from Legends’ Talk at the University of Baltimore
The father-and-son developers behind much of Remington’s renewal, Donald and Thibault Manekin of Seawall Development, will be the featured speakers in a “Lessons From Legends” talk sponsored by the University of Baltimore’s Merrick School of Business.
The talk will begin on March 30 at 6 p.m. in the Wright Theater, located in the university’s student center at 21 W. Mount Royal Avenue. It is free and open to the public.
Author Robert Kanigel Discusses Jane Jacobs and Baltimore
Baltimore resident and writer Robert Kanigel will discuss “Jane Jacobs and Baltimore” at the Village Learning Place, 2521 St. Paul Street, on March 16 at 7 p.m. Kanigel is the author of the 2016 biography, “Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs,” about the author of “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.” His talk is free, but a donation is requested to benefit the Village Learning Place.
Regional Migration the Subject of AIA Lecture
Garrett Dash Nelson of Dartmouth College and Amanda Kolson Hurley, a freelance journalist, will discuss regional migration on March 16 at 6 p.m. in the Brown Center at the Maryland Institute College of Art., 1301 W. Mount Royal Avenue.
This is the first of four talks in the spring 2017 lecture series sponsored by the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the Baltimore Architecture Foundation. This year’s theme is migration.
Carver Center Celebration to be Held on 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, 938 York Road in Towson.
Carver Center is Baltimore County’s only all-magnet high school, and the event showcases the talents and creativity of Carver Center students. It will feature tapas and desserts prepared by culinary students as well as performances and demonstrations by students in acting, carpentry, cosmetology, dance, design and production, digital instrumental music, information technology/interactive media, literary arts, visual arts and vocal music.
Early bird tickets are $60 per person through March 15. Regular 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, visit the CCF website.
Monument City Brewing has Opened in Highlandtown
Monument City Brewing has opened a taproom at 1 N. Haven Street in Highlandtown. The company had been working under contract at Peabody Heights Brewery in North Baltimore.
Chesapeake Real Estate Group will Market hhgregg Distribution Facility
Chesapeake Real Estate Group has been named the exclusive leasing broker for a 393,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution facility in Prince George’s County that was formerly occupied by hhgregg. The Indianapolis-based electronics retailer recently announced plans to close 88 stores around the country, including 10 locations in Maryland. Matt Laraway and Scott Skogmo of Chesapeake Real Estate Group are handling the project on behalf of the property owner.
Located at 14301 Mattawoman Drive near the intersection of MD Route 5 and US Route 301 in Brandywine, the building was originally developed as a warehouse and distribution facility for Circuit City in 1998. It features 27-foot ceiling heights, 49 dock doors and parking spaces for 154 cars and 66 trailer spaces. Situated on approximately 29 acres of land, the building also contains about 13,000 square feet of office space.
Hhgregg also plans to close distribution centers in Philadelphia and Miami. The Maryland-area building will become available on June 1.