Chase Brexton cleared a key hurdle last month when Baltimore's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation approved its renovation plans, which call for interior spaces to be substantially reconstructed, exterior walls to be restored, and a large entry plaza overlooking Charles Street to be raised slightly and replanted.
"We're hoping to begin construction in the next 30 days," said Dan Neumeister, Chase Brexton's chief executive officer. "Our plans are to move into the Monumental Life Building in April or May of 2013."
The goal is to preserve historically significant features of the ornate Monumental Life complex while adapting and reconfiguring the property to provide much needed health services, Neumeister explained.
"The nice part of the building is that there is so much history, and we want to be respectful of it," he said. "It's just stunning."
Chase Brexton acquired the four-building Monumental Life property in June 2011, for $6.7 million, with the intention of using it to consolidate employees from three locations in Mount Vernon and accommodate future growth. The seller was the Aegon Insurance Group, which has moved its Transamerica Life insurance operations closer to Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
The acquisition ended a decade-long search for space by Chase Brexton, which began in the late 1970s as a volunteer-based gay men's health clinic and has grown to become a private, nonprofit primary care clinic with 240 employees and 24,000 patients a year. It offers a wide range of services, including care for people with HIV and AIDS, dentistry, behavioral health counseling, addiction treatment and case management.
To accommodate its growth, Neumeister said, Chase Brexton plans to occupy about 85,000 square feet of the 192,000 square feet of space vacated by Transamerica, up from about 50,000 it currently occupies in Mount Vernon. Chase Brexton has other locations that will remain in Howard, Baltimore and Talbot counties.
Chase Brexton officials had hoped to move to Charles Street by this April, but they had to wait for Transamerica to relocate to the former Legg Mason tower downtown, a move that was completed in January.
The work will be funded by a mix of public and private funds, including a $5 million federal grant and a $1.5 million state grant.
On May 31, Chase Brexton sold its longtime headquarters at 1001 Cathedral St. for $1.65 million to Agora Inc. a publishing company with nine other buildings in the Mount Vernon area.
According to Jean Hankey, vice president of management and development, Agora has agreed to let Chase Brexton stay in that building as a tenant until its Charles Street headquarters is ready to occupy. City Cafe will remain as a tenant at street level, Hankey said.
A second Chase Brexton property, 10 W. Eager St., is under contract to AIRS, a nonprofit provider of affordable housing, according to AIRS board member Nicholas Piscatelli.
Chase Brexton also leases space in the 1100 block of N. Charles St. and plans to vacate that location when its new headquarters is finished, Neumeister said.
The Monumental Life buildings date from 1928, 1938, 1957 and 1968. Neumeister said Chase Brexton will move into the 1928, 1938 and 1957 buildings but does not plan immediately to occupy the 1968 building, which has more than 100,000 square feet of space. He said Chase Brexton may use the 1968 building to accommodate future growth or rent it to others, but does not plan to make any decisions right away.
During a presentation to the preservation commission last month, architects with NBBJ and Marks, Thomas showed plans for renovating the Charles Street plaza and modifying doorways on Charles and Chase streets. Neumeister said Chase-Brexton may renovate one of the first-level rooms vacated by Monumental Life as a meeting space for use by the community.
The plans drew praise from owners of several nearby properties, who said the improvements will be good for the Charles Street corridor.
"They are doing things that we have been waiting decades to have happen," said David Egan, who owns a St. Paul Street building that backs up to Chase Brexton's property.
Neumeister said the property will continue to be known as the Monumental Life Building even after Chase-Brexton moves in, and Monumental Life-related medallions and other architectural features will be retained.
"This building has been a strong icon of the community for many years, and it will be for many years to come," he said.