Construction on a $1 million community center near M&T Bank Stadium began with a ceremonial groundbreaking Thursday, drawing a gathering of neighborhood leaders in anticipation of the workforce development, veterans’ services and health fairs planned for the site.
The center is part of the $300 million Stadium Square development that includes 600 luxury apartments, retail shops, office space and a parking garage large enough to fit nearly 2,000 vehicles. Upgrades to Solo Gibbs Park, affordable housing for veterans and police officers, streetscape improvements and technology investments also are part of the project.
The Rev. Alvin Gwynn Jr., pastor of Leadenhall Baptist Church, said the community center will offer residents of South Baltimore’s Sharp-Leadenhall neighborhood free groceries when they fall on hard times, fellowship and a place to turn when they’re having trouble finding work that will support their family. Construction on the 2,400-square-foot center, which is being funded with private money and a matching state grant, is expected to be complete within a year.
“There is often a disconnect between new development that comes into communities, and what this center is representing is a linchpin,” Gwynn said, adding that plans have been in the works for the center for about five years. “When you see things going up, there can often be a feeling, ‘That’s not for me.’ In this case, the center says, ‘No, everything that is happening here is for you.’ ”
The church will run the center with a nonprofit organization handling the operating funds. Services will be provided through partnerships with the United Way of Central Maryland, the Maryland Food Bank and other nonprofits.
Joining Gwynn at the ceremony were Mayor Catherine E. Pugh, representatives from the Stadium Square developer, Towson-based Caves Valley Partners, and other civic and community leaders.
The Stadium Square development spans three city blocks between Federal Hill and the Ravens stadium, sitting just west of Cross Street Market. Plans call for 375,000 square feet for offices and at least 50,000 square feet for ground-level retail space. The developer is making various infrastructure improvements and adding a direct high-speed fiber optic connection to the TierPoint data center.
It replaces empty lots, some houses and old industrial buildings, including the former sites of Hilgartner Natural Stone Co. and the Baltimore Tool Works plant that closed in 2009. The developer said the project does not displace residents.
Some commercial tenants are already in place, including the Amsterdam-based workspace provider Space and the financial services firm Janney Montgomery Scott, both located in the six-story building at 145 W. Ostend St., the project’s first completed office building. More than half of it is leased.
Stadium Square’s first apartment building, the 300-unit Hanover Cross Street, opened over the summer.
Most of the roughly 400 previously existing housing units in Sharp-Leadenhall were owner-occupied and very few are vacant, according to the most recent census data, from 2010.
Amanda David, president of the Sharp-Leadenhall Community Improvement Association, said she is watching closely to make sure the development lives up to the promises made to the community. The project is bringing new life to the community that is surrounded by buildings so tall they tower over the neighborhood, blocking it from view, she said.
“As long as they stay true to what they said, I think it’s one of the best ideas yet in South Baltimore,” said David, who has lived in the community for more than 30 years. “Everything around us is so high. You can hardly even see us. Now, with this, hopefully we can have some pulse of our heartbeat breaking through.”
Pugh said the development will help lift the community.
“It is how we work together, how collaborative we are, this is what’s going to make difference in our neighborhood and our communities,” the mayor said. “Stadium Square is emerging, to me, as Baltimore’s next-generation downtown district. We want everybody to feel comfortable being in communities, being in neighborhoods and having the amenities that are needed to make a community whole.”
Arsh Mirmiran, a partner at Caves Valley, said the only retail in the neighborhood had been a convenience store and a liquor store. The idea for the community center came from the neighborhood leadership, he said.
“The goal was — and is — to provide opportunity for current residents, for people wanting to improve their lives through access to better education, better jobs and better access to health care, goods and services,” Mirmiran said.
“We also expect our new residents and office tenants to be engaged in the community, tutoring children after school, providing job opportunities and training and working together to create a success story that redefines how development is done in our city.”
City Councilman Eric Costello, who lives three blocks from the site, said the groundbreaking represents follow-through on a commitment from Caves Valley that the development would be inclusive.
“The entire team promised that on the front end,” he said.