by Geoff Fox
An architect looking to invest in some of the buildings on Hancock’s Main Street – most notably the big yellow town’s Public Works Building – told town officials about his plans last week.
Bruno Reigh, an architect from Howard County, came before town officials during their October town meeting to give an outline of his ideas.
Town Manager Mike Faith introduced Reigh and said he was interested in renovating a few buildings in town.
Faith had met with Reigh previously, spending an hour to an hour and a half in the yellow building itself. Reigh said he has a heart for historic preservation with most of his work as an architect in the preservation area. In describing what he had in mind for Hancock, Reigh looked at Ellicott City 50 years ago as an example.
At that time, there were no guidelines, zoning, or heart for saving the old buildings. Now, that area is high rent district.
“What I see happening in Hancock is eventually that’s all going to come here,” he said.
Reigh said everything from the cities are spreading out and people don’t have to live as close to their job as before. Main Street in Hancock could be similar to Ellicott City, and property values could go up as well.
“Hopefully you guys will be able to preserve the character of Main Street, renovate those old buildings, and really turn it into some place that people would like to come and stay and eat, rent a place to live or stay for the night,” Reigh said.
He said he’d like to see the town go that way with his help, noting he sees a future for himself as well as he’d like to invest in Main Street as well.
The town’s Public Works building had been put out to bid on an RFP basis with the philosophy that the town wanted to do something with that building and have control over its intended use.
Faith added there were a few bidders with one being selected, but after the firm did an environmental study, the costs to demolish the building proved too much.
With Mayor Roland Lanehart, Jr. calling the building an eyesore, Reigh said he’d like to show town officials how it could not be an eyesore.
“I think the bones of that building are really good,” he said.
The building was built early in the 1900s.
Reigh said, as an architect and preservationist, the building is “perfect for adaptive re-use” with concrete floors, steel structure, and block and concrete walls.
“It’s a bunker!” he said.
Reigh fought to save similar buildings in Howard County, losing some to developers in that area.
“This one, I hope I don’t lose. I hope I can do something with this for you,” he said.
The area is “perfect for retail,” Reigh said, noting what is already going on at that end of town. He said the Blue Goose would be a “great anchor” for that area, along with the new travel center.
Reigh added that area is an important area for things that wouldn’t fit into the town’s historic district but would draw in economic development.
“That’s where you put new stuff, down at that end of town near the interstate,” he said.
Those people come in and go to retail, and if there’s a place to stay, they could explore the rest of the town and Main Street.
Reigh suggested keeping the Dillon name attached to the building as it used to be a packing house for the Dillon Orchard, and adding a plaque for historic reasons.
One thing going on around the country, notably in National Harbor Place, is Main Streets being redeveloped with landscaping, restaurants, retail, and, most importantly, life.
“That’s being done everywhere,” Reigh said.
What the Dillon Building would actually need would be storefronts, landscaping, and retail tenants in it, Reigh said. He added there could be apartments or offices in the upstairs area as well.
The large front overhead doors would be perfect for storefronts and the canopy could be rebuilt, he said.
Reigh said there could be some grading that would bring the first floor and the street, making it look like it was designed to be a roadside retail space.
In his designs, Reigh said windows could be added to the upper level of the building and the roof can be turned into a nighttime restaurant with some landscaping.
“That building is a great shell,” Reigh said. “The problem is it’s just a shell. It needs everything else.”
Reigh added the building needs and HVAC unit, electric, inside finished, and the outside redone.
“I can add a lot of stuff to that to really bring it back to life,” he said.
Reigh said, under an agreement with the town, a 90 day study period would allow a laser scan of the building and a 3D presentation of what could be done to the building, along with lease and floor plans to go out to possible retail tenants with letters of intents.
“My goal would be by the end of the 90 days, to have an architectural plan, rendering, and have letters of intent from tenants, and we go to settlement,” Reigh said, “and then I go to the bank and say I need $2 million to renovate, to do a basic renovation of the retail space.”
His estimate is between $2 million and $5 million to renovate the building, which Reigh thinks is reasonable to bring life back to that end of town.
Reigh has ideas of houses and other buildings on the east end, including a concept to create a modern 10-story, energy-efficient structure on the site of the SHA “State Lab” building.
He said a high tech modular building made of recyclable materials could last 1,000 years and run on the energy of a light bulb – a concept that would bring developers from all over the country to see it and bring life to the town itself.
Reigh said he already has partners who are ready to make that building happen here in Hancock.
“It’s an idea,” Reigh said.
Reigh has also acquired the old Masonic building in town as well and said he’s looking to save the interior space with the tin ceilings, the flooring, and size of the rooms on the first floor, and turn it into a multi purpose area.
The upstairs, he said, could be turned into apartments or offices.
Councilman David Kerns raised some concern on the possibility of Reigh’s plans coming to fruition.
Kerns said he wasn’t trying to be mean to Reigh, but the town’s been promised a number of things, such as an electronic home plate manufacturing and a new convenient store that pulled out from one of the locations Reigh is looking at.
“You’re giving us some good ideas, but I need, before I make a decision on something like that, I need something to say, ‘Ok, how we going to make this happen this time, ’because I’m tired of promises that don’t come through,” Kerns said.
Reigh said he understood where Kerns was coming from in his concern.
Faith said if Reigh were to do what he intends to do, it would be terrific.
“If there’s any kind of living space up there, it adds value to the town,” Faith said, adding that living space would help keep the schools open in Hancock.
Reigh said he’d put together a proposed contract and get enough details as he can. A contract would include a 90-day study period.
Public Works is currently using the bottom floor of the building. Right now there are no plans as to where a new town Public Works facility would be built.
Reigh offered his company to help out with that project, but officials didn’t take up the offer at the time.