CRS set to relocate to the Stewarts Building

Catholic Relief Services officials told about 50 dignitaries touring the renovation site of their new headquarters Dec. 15 they hope to move all 350 employees from their current building on Fayette Street to the old Stewarts Building, the former grand dame of Baltimore department stores, by July 2007.

“It will once again be a building of dreams,” said Ken Hackett, president of the international relief organization.

Organization officials announced during the Friday event their new home will don the sign “Catholic Relief Services at the Stewarts Building.”

The $33-million project includes renovating the 180,000-square-foot building at Howard and Lexington streets, the construction financing and the 30-year-lease payment, said David F. Piraino, vice president of human resources for CRS.

The organization had been looking for a new building since 2000 and entered into the lease agreement in 2005 with the Stewarts Building owners, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, a Baltimore philanthropic group committed to redevelopment efforts on the west side.

“Catholic Relief Services works in some of the toughest neighborhoods in the world,” Mr. Hackett said, “We hope our world headquarters will be in a safe neighborhood.”

CRS relocated its headquarters to Baltimore from New York in 1989 and currently provides humanitarian assistance to people in 99 countries and territories.

The organization needed to find a larger facility because its outreach programs have expanded in recent years.

While touring the renovation site, Baltimore City Council President Sheila Dixon reminisced about her light-skinned mother passing herself off as a white woman in order to shop in that same building, before the Stewarts department store lifted its segregation policy in the 1940s.

Ms. Dixon, who will become the city’s first black female mayor in January, beamed with pride when she thought about the building housing an organization like CRS, which is responsible for helping people in every racial category worldwide.

“This is a terrific day in Baltimore City and the west side,” she said as she viewed the progress being made on the eight-story building. “Catholic Relief Services is leading the way to what I believe will be a vital, mixed-use district.”

During the event, CRS officials eagerly showed off construction of a 32-by-32-foot-wide atrium that will extend from the third to the eighth floor with a glass skylight on the roof.

It will flood the floors CRS will occupy with natural sunlight, said Lou Chitman of Design Collective Architects, the firm guiding the renovations.

“It’s symbolic,” Mr. Chitman said, “of the light Catholic Relief Services brings to the neighborhoods throughout the world.”

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.