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Historic Merchants Club next to new Shakespeare theater sells

The Merchants Club building, which dates to 1905, sold last month to Helm Real Estate Holdings.
The Merchants Club building, which dates to 1905, sold last month to Helm Real Estate Holdings. (Courtesy of Transwestern / Baltimore Sun)

A historic building next to the new home of the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company sold last month to a company controlled by one of the acting troupe's trustees.

A unit of Helm Real Estate Holdings purchased the Merchants Club building at 206 E. Redwood St. in December for $900,000, according to land records.

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Scott Helm, who leads the firm, said he became interested because of the property's proximity to the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company's theater and its location in a part of downtown poised for change, as developers convert old offices to apartments and hotels. Formerly, Helm was a partner of Capital Energy Partners, vice president at Goldman Sachs and chief financial officer at Orion Power Holdings.

Helm Real Estate Holdings has not entered into a lease with the acting group, but discussions have started, said Helm, who sits on the acting troupe's board. The group could use part of the 16,512-square-foot building for offices and educational space, he said, adding that he would recuse himself from a vote on any lease as a board member.

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"I can't stress too much that we're really at an early stage," said Helm, adding that he also considered using the building for a restaurant or bar that would cater to theater patrons and the new apartment dwellers.

The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company moved last year into the former Mercantile Trust and Deposit Co. building at Redwood and Calvert streets. A unit of the Helm Foundation, a philanthropic group directed by Helm that supports nonprofits, purchased the property in 2012 and has an agreement to lease it to the company for more than 20 years, Helm said.

The four-story Merchants Club building dates to 1905 and housed a private dining club before being purchased in 1991 by the former Baltimore International College Inc.

The college nearly lost its accreditation in 2011 and was taken over by Virginia's Stratford University, which said it would sell the real estate holdings to satisfy debts. The historic YMCA in Mount Vernon, also owned by the former college, sold last year.

The Merchants Club building has been empty since 2011, said Leo McDermott, a vice president for Transwestern who represented the seller. The $900,000 final sale price is well below the initial asking price of $1.95 million.

McDermott said the sale would help solidify the area, once marked by vacancies.

"This purchase helps to maintain the integrity and historic nature of these properties," he said. "I think the purchase was a good long-term investment."

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