On the site of a massive, abandoned aircraft manufacturing plant, developer Jonathan Ehrenfeld’s passion project appears to be generating opportunities and challenges in nearly equal magnitude.
The President and CEO of Blue Ocean is redeveloping the former Glenn L. Martin Company plant in Middle River. With 50 acres of land, 2 million square feet of existing industrial space and a location near I-95, I-695, the Port of Baltimore, a MARC train station and other large developments in eastern Baltimore County, Aviation Station has obvious potential. It also has the cachet of a piece of industrial history and a vintage 1930s industrial architecture.
“It has that beautiful, historic window line,” Ehrenfeld said. “There are an estimated 400,000 windows in this structure. Just looking at that and imagining what could happen inside such a structure grabbed my attention.”
The scope of the development, however, is both its biggest opportunity and challenge.
“You accept that it’s a little over 2 million square feet but you never really get used to the volume of it,” Ehrenfeld said.
Running modern utilities throughout the site to serve 1.5 million square feet of space (the development’s expected size after selective demolition of out-buildings) has been a huge undertaking for crews who have been working onsite for the past eight months. The new electrical service is comparable to the capacity that “used to be brought into steel plants” and installing a new sprinkler system involved “designing something that doesn’t exist anywhere else,” Ehrenfeld said. “We have also just replaced the 600,000 square foot roof. That’s about 13 acres of roof. It was a six-month project and was completed at a cost of $2.5 million.”
The pandemic has complicated the endeavor further. Originally, Blue Ocean envisioned creating a live-work-play environment with ample retail, hospitality and experiential spaces alongside industrial tenants. COVID-19 prompted the project team to “shift our focus from experiential to industrial tenants,” said Steven Cornblatt, Principal of Trout, Daniel and Associates. “While the present focus is on industrial users, we are not taking our eye off of experiential, because we expect that market will bounce back as we get past COVID-19.”
But at least for the near term, TD&A’s OIC leasing team for Aviation Station is exploring industrial use options for onsite buildings and the site’s 8 acres of leasable outdoor space, which could be used for vehicle parking, construction laydown space or equipment storage, Cornblatt said.
Several retailers are planning to move into buildings along the site’s perimeter, Ehrenfeld said. Meanwhile, Blue Ocean is developing a 150,000-square-foot indoor athletic facility which will include sports fields, courts, a training facility, climbing wall, party rooms and other amenities.
“We will bring jobs to the site first. Exciting mixed uses – like hospitality, entertainment and residential – will follow later,” Ehrenfeld said. “We remain committed to the vision that this can be a vibrant live-work-play environment.”
Despite the daunting size of the project and the complications of the pandemic and recession, several government measures are helping move the development forward.
“This is an economic development dream project,” Cornblatt said. “I have never seen a property with so many economic development incentives from transit-oriented development to foreign trade zone to empowerment and opportunity zones, historic tax credits and brownfield tax credits. It also received a new economic incentive over the summer, the Maryland Sales and Use Tax Exemption, allowing for a waiver of the 6% Maryland Sales Tax for companies investing in tenant improvement, equipment and furniture, to relocate and operate their businesses at the property.”
The incentives, Ehrenfeld said, are attracting investors to a development that is expected to require more than $100 million to complete.
“On projects like this, these packaged incentives will go a long way to meeting and exceeding financial requirements of users. We are finding individuals who are looking to take advantage of the federal opportunities zone and that is attracting a lot of investment to this project,” Ehrenfeld said. “We’re excited to see the continued progress, community support and investor interest for this unique project. Aviation Station is set to be one of the largest industrial hubs in Maryland and will offer key employment and economic development opportunities bringing new life and energy to the space. We aim to have our first tenant in January 2022.”