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UB sets sights on land

For at least seven years, the University of Baltimore has been eyeing a chunk of land in the city’s Midtown neighborhood for expansion.

Thursday, the school may move one step closer to finally owning it.

The elusive, 2.5-acre parcel is owned by the U.S. Postal Service, which has operated a vehicle maintenance facility there since 1963. But the property, at 60 W. Oliver St., is situated on what UB officials consider prime real estate, and they’ve been trying to negotiate a deal with USPS since 2007.

Those efforts were largely unproductive until about six months ago, when the federal agency was finally coaxed to the negotiating table by the mayor’s office, city economic development officials and even Maryland’s congressional delegation.

The two parties recently announced the fruits of their labor: a multi-pronged deal that could cost the university $9.1 million if approved by the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, according to documents filed in advance of a meeting Thursday of the regents’ finance committee.

The committee will meet to weigh whether to recommend that the full board approve the deal.

Under the agreement, the university would buy a different parcel of land, about 3 miles away at 4100 Ashland Ave., and build a replacement maintenance facility there for USPS.

The university would then exchange ownership of that property for ownership of the first piece of land, the parcel on Oliver Street. USPS will not officially sign off on the deal until the state Board of Public Works approves an exchange agreement.

The university plans to eventually tear down or renovate the existing USPS building and build new student housing or a campus recreation center. UB officials say the Oliver Street property is critical to the university’s 10-year facilities master plan (which lasts through 2020), and that it would help UB continue its community revitalization efforts by further integrating itself into the neighborhood.

“UB midtown has dramatically changed since the [vehicle maintenance facility] opened in 1963,” Chris Hart, a UB spokesman, said in a statement. “This is a legacy acquisition for the long-term growth of the campus.”

A spokeswoman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake echoed this goal, saying the mayor got involved with the project because she felt it was important to help “one of the city’s key anchor institutions” expand.

UB would pay $800,000 for the 4.2-acre Ashland Street property, the site of a former Republic Steel building. The property’s current owner, BTR Biddle LLC, completed the Maryland Department of the Environment’s Voluntary Cleanup Program in 2010, which established the commercial and industrial uses permissible for the site.

Design, construction and associated costs of the new 30,000-square-foot facility would total $8 million. UB would also put $130,000 toward USPS’ associated costs — such as project inspections and relocation expenses — as well as $100,000 for its own due diligence.

Another $130,000 would be spent to obtain an easement from the neighboring property owner, Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., to allow USPS tractor trailers to access the Ashland Street facility.

USM Chancellor William E. Kirwan recommended that the finance committee approve the deal and send it to the full Board of Regents, according to committee documents. A USM spokesman said he could not comment about the deal, or the likelihood of its passing.

If the board agrees to the deal, the construction contract would likely be awarded in January 2015, with work to begin in 2016.

U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., who represents parts of the city and who pushed for the project, said further UB expansion would improve the look and feel of the neighborhood surrounding the university.

“The University of Baltimore’s proposal to renovate and repurpose the USPS maintenance facility will allow the university to continue to grow, while transforming an underutilized building into one that is vibrant, and will further the connection between the school and the surrounding community,” Cummings said. “We need to seize every opportunity to reinvest resources into what’s already here, which is why I support this project.”


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