Checking out a vacant house

A campaign poster lies in debris in a front room of a vacant row house that the city is trying to redevelop. (Photo by Noah Scialom / January 24, 2012)

Douglas Armstrong pulled out a pocket flashlight Monday morning as he entered a dark, vacant row house in Remington.

"I'm an Eagle scout," he said.

Armstrong, of the Remington Neighborhood Alliance, was among several dozen area residents, redevelopers, builders and architects who toured at least some of the nine vacant row houses that Baltimore City wants to rehab as new housing in the 2800 block of Remington Avenue.

Interest is running high in the city's Request for Proposals to redevelop the city-owned houses, located within walking distance of a planned shopping center that woukld be anchored byWal-Mart..

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Baltimore Housing Department officials had to bring in extra chairs Jan. 18, as a crowd of about 50 people from as far away as New York turned out for a prebid conference.

The audience didn't bat an eye when housing officials stressed that their preference is to have the houses redeveloped as new housing under the city's Vacants to Value program.

"We are strongly encouraging home ownership," Housing Department Deputy Commissioner Julie Day told the audience.

As expected, Donald Manekin, of Remington-based Seawall Development Corp., and Dan McCarthy, executive director of the nonprofit, Hampden-based Episcopal Housing Corp., were in attendance at the conference.

Seawall is best known for redeveloping two old mills as affordable apartments for teachers and office space for nonprofit groups. Seawall has also purchased six vacant row houses in Remington that it plans to redevelop on its own.

Episcopal Housing Corp. rehabs vacant houses, mostly in west Baltimore and Collington Square near Johns Hopkins Hospital. But Episcopal Housing wants to "expand its reach" into the Remington-Hampden area, McCarthy said.

"I think it's a natural progression," he said.

The audience also included representatives of New York City-based Urban Development Partners, a real estate development company that specializes in large-scale, mixed-use urban developments, according to its Web site.

Also attending was a representative of Integrated Construction, in east Baltimore.

Julie Tice, a Federal Hill-based architect, was there representing a developer, Brick by Brick Solutions, based in Ellicot City. Also there was Jacob Danyali, of Pikesville, a private developer and a member of the Property Owners Association of Greater Baltimore, a nonprofit that "provides educational, legislative and networking services to businesses and individuals concerned with the welfare of the residential rental real estate market," according to the association's Web site.

Jim Burch, marketing director for Kennedy Personnel, a staffing agency, was there, too, and said he was interested because he thought the project would generate a lot of construction jobs.

Housing officials said they were surprised by the turnout.

"A lot of familiar faces, a lot of new faces," Day said.

"I'm pleasantly surprised," said Manekin, a champion of affordable housing to keep young teachers from leaving the city. "It's a remarkable location with a neat set of houses."

Many people at the conference expressed an interest in seeing the boarded-up houses for themselves, even though Day said there wasn't much too see. Housing officials quickly arranged a tour, similar to a real estate open house, for Jan. 23 from noon to 3 p.m., but warned that people who wanted to enter the houses would have to sign a waiver releasing the city from legal liability. Day also asked visitors to be sensitive, because most, but not all of the houses in the block are vacant.

The three-story houses are all between 1,000 and 1,100 square feet, Day said.