|Unfortunate brick modernism on Calvert Street|
First announced in January the is year, the expiring lease at the current SUN headquarters on Calvert Street put the gun to the head of the SUN, although it had the option to renew the lease as well, with the SUN operations occupying only a small part of the building, not an attractive optioon, especially after the Tribune Media Company, which owns the SUN, had sold the SUN's sprawling 5.5 acre 435,000 square foot downtown facility in May of 2017 to the property management company Atapco Properties. Already in 2014 it had sold the SUN's Port Covington printing plant to Sagamore.
Atapco goes back to the Baltimore Blaustein brothers, who after a meteoric rise in oil business, merged with Exxon and later entered into real estate in 1961 with the still standing Blaustein building on Charles Street best known in the City. Atapco plans the revive the mostly dead SUN complex with mixed use, but no details or designs are known.
|The SUN complex on Calvert and Guilford near completion in 1949. Note the|
remnants of the elevated tracks from bygone streetcar days. (SUN Archive)
It isn't clear what Tribune Publishing, which had renamed itself Tronc for while, plans to do with the SUN. Tribune Publishing is currently in the news for trying the merge with Sinclair Broadcasting, a process that seems to have hit a bump lately. The sale of assets is never a good sign for the future of an enterprise and likely more part of the long decline of print-media than the beginning of a new rise. Sagamore didn't buy the SUN facility because newsprint was such a great investment but because the company has big plans for the area where the plant sits. So the future of the SUN in Port Covington is certainly not ensured. Nevertheless, Sagamore Development welcomed the move of the SUN newsroom and offices to their planned new town back in January, 2018 with this statement:
“We’re excited at the prospect of welcoming another tenant and continuing the on-going progress at Port Covington, Having the Baltimore Sun, an iconic presence in Baltimore since the 1800s – and most of its employees – come to Port Covington speaks to the excitement around the development and its momentum.” Sagamore Development President Marc Weller in a statement.South Baltimore publisher Kevin Lynch, describes in detail how the SUN will be incorporated into the Port Covington plan in phase 1B of their phasing plan which began in April of this year:
|The SUN complex is an ugly fortress like structure, no matter how one looks|
The Sun Park property includes The Baltimore Sun’s large building and two large parking lots south of the building. Sagamore Development is planning a reconfiguration of the 60-acre property to relocate the parking. It will also be creating a new street, “Purple St.,” to provide access to The Baltimore Sun building and new parking lots which are planned west of the building. Purple St. will be a northern continuation of Insulator Dr. at a newly-built intersection at Cromwell St.(Kevin Lynch)While the initial phases of Port Covington keep the SUN in place, the final build-out plans envision it gone. Maybe that is symbolic for the meltdown of the paper that has gone on for so many years. On the other hand, Sagamore Development may find itself in a position where it wants to hold on to tenants and users it already has. So far, the SUN is an important business in the Baltimore economy, let alone that it's hard to imagine a city of Baltimore's size without a daily paper, real journalists who can do research and investigative journalism beyond what the online outfits can muster.
|The SUN printing plant in Port Covington as seen from I-95. Friendlier|
design, but already slated to disappear
With the future of the SUN in the stars, the future of its headquarters on Calvert Street is the most tangible next thing of importance to Baltimore. To fully understand that site one needs to look at the past, presence and future of the Jones Falls Valley.
68 years ago the SUN built initially a combined printing facility and newsroom facility, since 1988 Calvert Street is only the newsroom and office. In spite of its size the downtown location never gained any stature as a landmark or icon and did really nothing to revive downtown. One can drive by the giant complex a thousand times, and one would still not remember anything but a mass of bricks in a street that is not exactly rich in high-points except for the Courthouse Square. Going north one enters into a canyon of buildings choking the street with unremarkable facades. If Calvert Street feels decidedly peripheral, it is!
Up and down the JFX, the Jones Falls valley is a barrier, in part due to geography, but mostly because of the expressway and the land use decisions that ensued. The northern section currently see promising redevelopment that will help knit things back together even if the physical barriers remains. The Penn Station area is under complete redevelopment (See previous article here). The future of the southern end is responsible for nothing less than the future of Baltimore's historic downtown and the neighborhoods to the east. Wise planning could overcome all the barriers that have accumulated over time along the sunken river in its valley and the elevated expressway above it.
The elevated highway “is very disturbing from the viewpoint of architectural design and the impact it will have as a visual and physical barrier through the center of the city,” Local architects in 1962.The SUN facility is part of the barrier, even though it was designed and largely constructed before the destructive freeway. Mercy Hospital and its mammoth garages and the SHA headquarters and its mega garage to the north are all part of a fortress and edge mentality. All are uses one would certainly want to keep, but all are designed as barriers because of the hostile freeway behind and the inability to have meaningful east-west views and connections. The assortment of uses on the east of the Fallsway is worse. Uses are marginal (such as BGE facilities, parking lots) or placed there because nobody else wanted them such as the prison complex.
|Full build-out concept as submitted to Amazon|
It would also inform Atapco what to do with its acquisition of the SUN complex on Calvert Street.
Klaus Philipsen, FAIA