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State’s Attorney Bernstein moving office to SunTrust

Baltimore City State’s Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein has achieved one of the first goals he announced after taking office in January 2011: Finding new space to consolidate roughly 200 prosecutors, investigators and support staff who are now dispersed throughout the city’s circuit courthouses.

The Baltimore Board of Estimates this week approved a 10-year lease under which the city will pay more than $11 million for the new offices, according to the Baltimore City Council president’s office. The new space is located about two blocks south of the courthouses, in the SunTrust Bank building at 120 E. Baltimore St.

The move will take place at the beginning of the New Year.

“Contiguous space promotes better communication and greater efficiency, which are essential to our mission of making Baltimore a safer place,” Bernstein’s office said in an email.

Mark Cheshire, a spokesman for Bernstein, said the state’s attorney’s current office space is not conducive to the work the office does with crime victims and witnesses. At present, he said, victims and witnesses walk the same halls as defendants, and their conversations can often be overheard because the walls don’t always go all of the way to the ceiling.

“We need victims and witnesses to be able to participate freely and this move will achieve this goal,” Cheshire said.

Rent for the first year will start at $1,078,555 and will increase to $1,405,390 by the ninth and 10th years. The office will also pay $11,024 yearly for storage and will get two reserved parking spaces at $240 per space.

The state’s attorney’s office will occupy 65,367 square feet of office space of the Class A building, occupying part of the eighth floor and all of floors nine through 11, along with 1,297 square feet of space for storage in the building’s lower level.

The SunTrust Bank Building currently has a vacancy rate of 41.6 percent representing 139,639 available square feet, said Terri Harrington, vice president at MacKenzie Commercial Real Estate Services in Baltimore.

Harrington said a large portion of the available space was created by the departure of Ober|Kaler, a law firm that moved to Transamerica Tower at 100 Light St. in March 2011.

Bernstein’s new landlord will be FSP East Baltimore Street LLC. Patricia A. McMullen, vice president of Wakefield, Mass.-based Franklin Street Properties, declined to comment. The building was developed by Manekin LLC.

Advocates for downtown business expansion applauded the state’s attorney’s choice of location.

“We are delighted that they chose such a central location to downtown,” said J. Kirby Fowler, president of The Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc. “It confirms the viability of Baltimore Street as an address. It is encouraging that buildings off Pratt Street and the waterfront are seeing new life, and we hope this trend will continue.”

Harrington agreed that the development was a great sign for the market.

“This is exciting news, as their lease in a building not owned by the city will show as positive absorption in the market, as opposed to a tenant moving from one downtown building to another which just creates a wash of the numbers,” she said.

The fate of the space being vacated by the state’s attorney has yet to be determined.

Baltimore City Administrative Judge Marcella Holland said in an email that the court is having the space evaluated for any viable courtroom and chambers space.

“After that is determined, other court space needs will be addressed and perhaps space will be made available to internal court partners like the Clerk’s and Sheriff’s offices,” she said.

Baltimore City Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway Sr., who has employees in several buildings including the circuit courthouses, called the conditions there “dismal.”

“There is mold and rodents, and the air quality is bad,” he said. “They are getting away from it, which is good. I just wish they would do the same for us.”