Ceremonial dirt lay piled in the parking lot. Golden shovels were in place. Past the shoulders of city leaders and big-name CEOs, excavators prepared the grounds for a new $100 million apartment complex in South Baltimore.
"This is not your typical groundbreaking," said Tom Bozzuto, CEO of The Bozzuto Group, which along with Scott Plank's War Horse LLC and Solstice Partners is working on the 292-unit development.
When the April 27 groundbreaking for the project backed by two prominent Baltimore families was first scheduled, it would have been business as usual. But that celebration was canceled as protests and unrest mounted in the wake of Freddie Gray's death in police custody. Riots that thrust Baltimore into the national spotlight broke out that night.
So on Wednesday, city and business leaders worked to strike a delicate balance, celebrating the city's strengths without seeming to minimize the problems laid bare in the violence. They reiterated their commitments to the city, speaking nearly as much about contributions to local schools and affordable housing efforts as they did about the building underway on the former General Electric site at the corner of Lawrence Street and Fort Avenue behind them.
"Here today ... we have two families, both of which have very long commitments to this community, both personally and professionally, standing firm and demonstrating their belief in this great city," Bozzuto said. "We are not backing away now or any time in the future from this, as our obligation as citizens."
The development, called Anthem House, is slated to include 449 parking spaces and roughly 20,000 square feet of retail, topped by a fitness area and about one acre of open space on the roof. It is expected to be finished in about 18 months.