Since opening in 2003 in a leased warehouse in the crumbling industrial area just south of M&T Bank Stadium, Second Chance has grown to occupy several leased warehouses. But it has always operated under the threat of eviction, thanks to various redevelopment proposals in the area.
The move, undertaken to make room for a future slots casino, will allow Second Chance to operate more efficiently, said Mark Foster, the organization's founder and chief executive.
He said the permanent dwelling also will enable the group to better carry out its dual mission: to find new purposes for old building materials and furnishings, and to train the unemployed in job and life skills. Workers in the training program staff the warehouses and retail operations and also work on deconstruction projects — carefullly taking apart homes and other structures to salvage the parts.
"We're under one roof that's our home," Foster said, adding that the permanent quarters would allow the organization to expand its services and to invest in the building.
Until now, Foster said, the "vagabond nature" of the operation meant Second Chance was always ready to pick up and move.
"We were on a running clock, and the time would expire," he said.
When Second Chance first opened in South Baltimore, the area was in flux, with redevelopment projects planned. Because not many businesses were willing to move in under such uncertain conditions, rents were cheap.
Over the years, the Second Chance salvage business continued to grow — and to move into additional warehouses — and today is one of the biggest operations of its kind, the equivalent of four Home Depots' worth of stuff, Foster said.
The planned $187.5 million slots project would include a casino on more than 3 acres bounded by Warner, Bayard, Russell and Worcester streets. Plans also call for a garage with street-level retail and restaurants facing Warner Street, which would be located on the more than 4 acres where Second Chance's old warehouses are located. All the property is owned by the city.
The state is reviewing the group seeking a slots license. A decision is not expected until late March or early April.
Plans call for the casino developer to lease the site and to purchase additional property from the city for a garage and more potential development space, said Kimberly A. Clark, executive vice president of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's quasi-public development arm.
Second Chance bought the Ridgely Street warehouse — where it will occupy 175,000 square feet — for $6.5 million last summer. The move from five buildings to the single warehouse is expected to be completed by early March, but work to refurbish and build out the new location could take a couple of years.
Workers are currently building a lobby and reception area, finishing up office space and preparing the selling area to hold inventory organized by categories, including home furnishings, kitchen and bath, building materials, and architectural salvage items.
Plans also call for the creation of a shop where workers will be trained to repair and restore items that were donated or reclaimed from buildings.
The plans "will really spruce up the building and give Second Chance a lot more visibility," Clark said. "It will bring more life to that area."
Second Chance has gained a following among people seeking a good deal on tough-to-find windows, doors, bath and kitchen fixtures, mantelpieces, wood flooring, tile and almost anything else that can be used to build or furnish a structure.
"The head winds of the economy have been good for what we do," Foster said. "A lot of people are looking to save money, and people are staying put and … renovating, and that gives them a reason to come here."
People are also more environmentally conscious or "green," Foster said.
"They call us up and donate rather than [throw] away," he said.
In its new warehouse, Second Chance is using reclaimed materials in the flooring, ceilings, walls and offices. A new lobby will feature walnut paneling and leaded-glass windows that came from the Philadelphia Civic Center, which Second Chance trainees helped deconstruct. One section of the warehouse holds only doors, flooring, copper dormers and other parts from a partially constructed and now abandoned $20 million mansion in York, Pa.
Less than a week before the new location was to open, shoppers browsed in Second Chance's home furnishing warehouse on Warner Street. The warehouse was full of furniture: sofas, end tables (some for $20), televisions and DVD players (including one for $5), and a custom-made bar with a "negotiable" price tag.
Outside the warehouse, Marcus Tompros loaded a heavy, leaded-glass window into the back of his car. He had driven up from Rockville in search of funky, eclectic items to decorate his condo. He was not disappointed: For $400 he got the window, which he planned to hang on his wall.
Said Tompros of Second Chance: "There's no other place like it."