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Union Mill development goes to head of the class

SchoolsJohn ConstableMergers, Acquisitions and Takeovers

Seawall Development Corp's first apartment building for public school teachers, Miller's Court in Remington, had too long a waiting list when Danielle Wayne moved to Baltimore last year.

But then, the 24-year-old kindergarten teacher from Florida heard about Union Mill in Hampden. Seawall Development planned to redevelop the former cotton duck mill as a second apartment complex for teachers, plus 25,000 square feet of office space for nonprofits.

Wayne signed up before redevelopment even began.

Now, the $21 million Union Mill is partially open and fully pre-leased, with 56 apartments, including one in the old 6,000-square-foot mill boiler room, Seawall officials say.

A four-tiered courtyard and a cafe that will be open to the public are still under construction.

On Aug. 15, Wayne, a kindergarten teacher at Federal Hill Preparatory School, a city public school, moved into the L-shaped, stone-and-brick structure that rises above row homes and neighborhood bars at the corner of Union and Buena Vista avenues.

And two weeks later, on the first day of school Aug. 29, management gave all of the tenants free coffee and donuts.

On a sunny Friday afternoon after work Oct. 14, Wayne, 24, pulled into the parking lot near the courtyard construction site.

"Really happy," she said, when asked how she likes living there. "I'm sad the weather's so nice and the courtyard's not open."

Built in 1866, with a brick addition in 1872, Union Mill, once the state's largest stone mill, has a varied history. It was a mill into the 1920s, and the only one along the Jones Falls that burned coal for steam instead of using water. It was later a Poole and Kent machine shop, a general warehouse and, since the mid-1960s, a Lifelike Products plant for making toy train set accessories.

Seawall purchased the 3.2-acre property in April 2009. The face of the bell tower, which once summoned mill workers, now announces, "Union Mill."

Union Mill, closely modeled after Miller's Court, will be home to about a dozen nonprofit groups, including the Maryland Disability Law Center, the umbrella group Maryland Nonprofits, New Leaders for New Schools, Community Conference Center, Urban Teachers Center, Urban Alliance, Higher Achievement, Fuel Fund of Maryland. Charm City Legal, Mariposa Child Success Programs, TIES and Maryland Lawyers for Artists.

But it is mainly marketed to teachers, who will pay $875 a month for a 1-bedroom and $1,475 a month for a 2-bedroom apartment.

"That's priced for a teacher's starting salary," said Seawall partner Evan Morville, who gave the Messenger a tour of the property Oct. 12. "We can't discriminate, but if you're a teacher, you get a discount."

The building features a resource room with copy machines at discounted rates; a free fitness center with bathrooms and showers; security cameras around the property; and 1,800 square feet of free conference room space for the nonprofits.

And the courtyard will feature an outdoor eating area on the first tier, an events lawn on the second tier for nonprofits to hold fundraisers, an "urban forest" and a yoga/pilates patio on the third tier, and a "front porch" space with Adirondack chairs on the top tier, Morville said.

Union Mill adds to the ambience of a neighborhood that is increasingly dominated by redeveloped mills that are now or are planned as multiuse housing, retail and office centers, as well as studios for artists.

"You've got three huge mills within a block of one another," Morville said, referring to Meadow Mill, Mount Vernon Mill andClipper Mill.

Seawall works closely with national groups such as Teach For America, a lead tenant in Miller's Court, which recruits college seniors to make 2-year commitments to teach in urban cities, and brings 180 teachers a year to Baltimore, Morville said.

Such affiliations, together with word of mouth, have created long waiting lists at both Miller's Court and Union Mill. There's already a list of 200 people for Union Mill, Morville said.

Seawall's Donald and Thibault Manekin, Morville and John Constable are now focusing on their next project, the Baltimore Design School, a charter-like "transformational" school planned in an old garment factory in the Greenmount West neighborhood in northeast Baltimore.

But they haven't tired of housing for teachers.

"We've got such a niche," Morville said. "This is targeted to a very specific group."

And he thinks eventually, Seawall might do more of it.

"We're always looking at different projects," he said.

Robert Lesser considers himself lucky to live at Union Mill. He was living with friends in Remington and was on a 2-year waiting list for Miller's Court when he first heard about Union Mill. After looking at little more than a blueprint, he chose a second-floor apartment that would overlook the courtyard.

"It's a great space," Lesser, 29, said Oct. 14, after coming home from his job as an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teacher at Johnnycake Elementary School in Catonsville.

"And the people in charge are really cool," he said. "They gave us all free rent for the first month."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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