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Village-like quality of Locust Point will survive a little gentrification

Special to The Sun

Steve and Deloris Lenivy, now in their mid-70s, have never owned a car, which wouldn't be so unusual for people living in the hub of a metropolis.

But the Lenivys live in Locust Point, a neighborhood that until recently has been the forgotten stretch in the golden rim of Inner Harbor development.

They found their Locust Point home in 1951 for $6,000, from talking to people in the neighborhood. For transportation in such a tight-knit community, they could always depend on family or friends who lived nearby to give them a lift to the market.

Through the years -- with truck traffic from the working waterfront so close -- they always worried whether their home would appreciate.

They don't have to worry any more.

As rehab masters Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse readies the Procter & Gamble five-building complex to draw high-tech businesses, some handicappers might wager that the Lenivys' neighborly world may be facing extinction. Locust Point has all the elements for a gentrification scenario where glitz replaces grit.

But this isn't your typical developer vs. small-town America blood match. For one thing, developer C. William Struever loves grit, especially as an architectural finish. Secondly, Locust Point's tight community isn't just atmosphere, but a force of nature that seems to be checking the urge to overdevelop.

Calling Locust Point the next Canton may be an overstatement, according to some of those involved in real estate in the neighborhood, be they developers, prospective homebuyers or someone in the middle.

"You don't see a lot of houses available in Locust Point," said Jim French, Southern District planner for the Baltimore Planning Department. "A lot of those people have been in there for generations and they're not going anywhere."

And, French said, the neighborhood doesn't have the commercial infrastructure of Canton.

"Fort Avenue is not Boston Street," he said.

The Locust Point home-buying network is so insular that many times sellers have no need to put out "for sale" signs.

French also points out that Locust Point still functions as an industrial site with access to rail and deep-water ports.

Westway Terminal Co., Perishable Deliveries, Archer Daniels Midland, Steinweg and the North and South Locust Point Marine Terminals make the neighborhood's harborside a real working waterfront.

"I don't get the sense that the industrial area of Canton is as intertwined with the neighborhood," he said.

Sandy Marenberg, project director for Struever Rouse Homes, said that unlike Canton, which had faced economic hard times since the canning industry closed, Locust Point didn't need saving. It hurt when Procter & Gamble left, but the neighborhood still had some industry.

Marenberg added that, when Canton started booming, people were moving there for the waterside charm, not for its tight-knit community.

"I think Locust Point has something that Canton didn't have when it started," Marenberg said. "That's the strength of Locust Point."

John May, an appraiser, said the number of property transfers has increased, indicating that the housing market is climbing. He said homes that haven't been renovated start at $40,000 to $50,000, while rehabbed homes tend to hover in the $120,000 price range.

But May also said Locust Point doesn't have all the fringe goodies that attract the young money or the empty-nesters.

"You've got to remember, you're dealing with young yuppies who like to party, they like their bagel shops and their gourmet coffees and Locust Point doesn't have that right now," May said.

While Locust Point might lack the frills, May said he wouldn't be surprised to see home prices double in the next few years.

Tracy Gosson, director of the Live Baltimore Marketing Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to urban living, sees unlimited promise in Locust Point, named after its once-ubiquitous locust trees.

She said the waterfront proximity is a priceless draw for a neighborhood in the midst of revitalization. Locust Point has stability and two parks in Fort McHenry and Latrobe Park. As far as amenities like cafes and restaurants, that's one development away.

"I think Locust Point is definitely going to be a neighborhood that is rolling off the tongue of everybody like Federal Hill and Fells Point," she said.

For more than a year now, sellers have been trying to get more for their homes. According to Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. - the Realtors' multiple-listing system - three homes are on the market, two listed for $159,900 and the other at $42,000.

In 1998, 27 homes sold for an average price of $62,899. Last year, the average bumped up to $70,042 for 27 homes sold. So far in 2000, 36 homes have been sold at an average of $67,576 and an average listing price of $73,457.

Mary Zimmerman, a Realtor with Ron Zimmerman Realty, described Locust Point as being on the "fringe of being hot." She said Locust Point is still a place that has to be "discovered."

Mike and Justine Sheedy had never heard of Locust Point until their real estate agent told them about the neighborhood.

They saw the neighborhood as a cheap alternative to Federal Hill and they bought a home on Fort Avenue in 1998 with no idea of the plans for the Procter & Gamble complex, now called Tide Point.

"Initially we didn't know anybody," Mike Sheedy said. "We met a lot of people walking the dog and there are a lot of local pubs. I met a lot of locals just by going out and having a beer."

While the rising prices may entice old-timers to sell, sometimes their bond with the community is even stronger.

"I've been on deals where you couldn't budge them with money," Ron Zimmerman said. "What are they going to do? Go to a nursing home? They can leave it to their children and stay."

Dan Doyle, 32, who works for Advertising.com, an early tenant of Tide Point, had trouble finding a Locust Point home comparable to his Federal Hill house. He said the homes he saw lacked the modern esthetic of exposed brick walls and the advantage of large bedrooms and bathrooms. "I thought the prices are a little high," he said.

Addressing the shortage of rehabbed homes, Struever Rouse Homes is building 36 townhouses on Towson Street, starting at $140,000. The 18-foot-wide, three-story homes, to be completed by next spring, will have rear-alley garage parking. The 2,000-square-foot homes will feature master bedrooms, master bathrooms with oversize tubs, two vanities, walk-in closets, large kitchens and rooftop decks.

Struever says the influence of his Tide Point project can't be contained just to the neighborhood, which doesn't have the housing stock to absorb the 1,500 to 2,000 employees projected to work in the converted factory complex. Any surge in demand for Locust Point housing will ripple through other neighborhoods, which eventually will help to stabilize the city's shrinking population base, he said.

Some Locust Point residents are positioning themselves to harness the economic energy from Tide Point. Dan Macatee, owner of Hull Street Blues Cafe for the past 15 years, anticipates more business, so he bought a house next door for restaurant expansion.

Kim Acton, who opened the Pazza Luna Italian restaurant a year and half ago, would like to take credit for what could be a shrewd business decision. But the one-time owner of an Ocean City restaurant was only looking to return to her old neighborhood.

"People were saying, 'My God, why did you pick this neighborhood?' And then when it hit the paper, I was some kind of visionary," Acton said.

Louis Gambill, who took over his grandfather's business 20 years ago, has rehabilitated three Locust Point homes, giving them "the Georgetown look" - hardwood floors and exposed brick. Although Gambill credits Tide Point for triggering interest in Locust Point, he said the new high-tech economy won't replace the neighborhood's village quality.

"Locust Point won't completely change because the bulk of the people work on the waterfront," Gambill said.

For Steve and Deloris Lenivy, Locust Point changed long ago.

Steve Lenivy, a longshoreman for 40 years, can recall the days when local bars were filled with sailors, longshoremen and factory workers.

But the Lenivys also talk about the signs of new life. They have befriended new neighbors who have stripped the Formstone from the corner house across the street and are reworking the interior.

"I tell you, them kids across the street, I love them," Steve Lenivy said. "I really do."


Locust Point

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 15 minutes

Public schools: Francis Scott Key Elementary and Middle, Southern High

Shopping: SouthSide Shopping Center and the Inner Harbor

Points of interest: Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, Latrobe Park

ZIP code: 21230

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