Plans are underway to convert the iconic Baltimore Sun headquarters into a mixed-use development anchored by a grocery store — and possibly a renovated newsroom for the state’s largest daily.

An executive at Atapco Properties, new owner of The Sun’s building at 501 N. Calvert St., said Thursday the developer has set into motion plans for the redesign of the properties in the Sun’s complex that make up 5.5 acres in Midtown. The property is visible from Interstate 83.

“It’s an iconic building,” said Patrick T. Coggins, vice president for development at Atapco. “We would love to put a grocery store there with office space, and there is a need for food along Calvert Street. We’re also pursuing a community theater to lease space inside for a local theater.”

The Sun has a lease at its Calvert Street headquarters that expires in June 2018. Coggins said Atapco has reached out to the Sun’s top management about the paper staying put in the new space.

“They are out in the market looking for space and they are downsizing significantly looking for 40,000 square feet,” Coggins said, of the 180-year old newspaper that has been publishing on Calvert Street since 1950. “We have made them a proposal to remain and we’re waiting to hear from them.”

In May, Atapco purchased The Sun complex including a parking garage in the 600 block of Calvert St. for $15.5 million. The Sun’s main building is 435,000 square feet.

The property was sold off by Tribune Media, which decided to shed the newspaper’s home for five decades last year and put it up for sale. In 2014, Tribune Media also sold a 60-acre property containing The Sun’s printing plant in Port Covington to Sagamore Development for $46.5 million.

Atapco is in the process of drafting several ideas for the Calvert Street property, Coggins said.

One rendering recently posted on the KLNB Retail website, the property’s leasing brokers, was created by local BCT Architects. It shows a pedestrian-friendly development with a large grocery store, smaller retail and restaurants on Calvert Street and a hotel next door where the parking garage now stands. Matt Copeland and Brian Finkelstein of KLNB Retail are marketing the property.

“The whole concept has not jelled yet. But we are interested in a mixed-use project with retail and office. I don’t know if a hotel [component] there is real,” Coggins said. “It is likely not going to be residential. Downtown has a lot of that already.”

Coggins said Atapco is involved in talks with grocery chains to open a market on the ground level of The Sun’s building where an executive parking lot now sits, declining to name any prospects. The BCT draft plans shows a 47,000-square-foot grocery space that would stretch across the lower level of the newspaper building where the press deck once sat.

In addition, it shows a 4,300-square-foot restaurant space along Calvert Street and a smaller 3,300-square-foot separate cafe. Five smaller retail spaces also line the promenade, the rendering shows.

A 7,850-square-foot theater performance space has been drawn into the rendering in space that is now the paper’s lobby area where today one of Evening Sun reporter H.L. Mencken’s quotes hangs next to his photograph: “As I look back over a misspent life, I find myself more and more convinced that I had more fun doing news reporting than in any other enterprise. It really is the life of kings.”

Coggins said the development team is likely to memorialize the journalistic work at the site in one way or another that would “speak to the history of the Baltimore Sun there.”

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” he said, of the plans that could break ground in 18 months at the latest. “It’s a great site — everyone thinks it is. It’s got location, access and about 1,000 parking spaces. A lot going for it.”

Melody SimmonsBaltimore Business Journal