Baltimore Sun

Big-name developers team up to tackle Old Town Mall

Mostly vacant stores line the west side of the 500 block of Old Town Mall, a failed pedestrian mall.

Some of Baltimore's most prominent developers have teamed up to work on the long-sought transformation of land near the city's historic and distressed Old Town Mall.

Beatty Development Group and Henson Development Co. are two of four firms behind a proposal to build a mixed-income community with rental and for-sale homes, a park, community center and a possible grocery store on roughly 16 acres in East Baltimore.


The Baltimore Development Corp. asked for development proposals for the publicly owned site in April. The new offering combined city-owned land where previous plans have not moved forward with 8.7 acres that once held the Somerset Homes public housing project.

That addition was key to drawing the interest of the partnership, which calls itself The New Old Town Team. The team also includes Kevin Johnson's Commercial Group and Philadelphia-based Mission First Housing Group.


The partnership hopes to create a project that can knit together Johns Hopkins Hospital, downtown, and Fells and Harbor Points, said Dan Henson, president of Henson Development.

"It's enough land to begin to think about and do something with," said Henson, a former housing commissioner. "We don't want to do average stuff. What we have an opportunity to do is have a game-changer."

The BDC has agreed to start a six-month study period to review the proposal from New Old Town, said Kimberly Clark, BDC's executive vice president. The BDC needs to examine the financial estimates for the project, as well as make sure plans comply with requirements for the public housing land, she said.

"We want to be sure we are moving forward with a complete project that can actually be done and that captures the needs and wants of the immediate community, as well as the city," she said. "It's a really strong team and we have a lot of faith in them."

Beatty Development is behind the high-profile Harbor Point project, where Henson is a partner in the Point Street apartment building. Last year, Henson and Mission First completed the Fells Point Station, 47 mixed-income residences in a historic Fells Point police station. Commercial Group is involved in State Center and has worked on numerous other projects around the city.

While Beatty Development has not done affordable developments in the past, President Michael Beatty said it fits with his belief in offering a mix of residences, pointing to a range of condo offerings in his previous work at Harbor East.

"We recognized by having different price points we would attract a broader variety," he said. "It makes it more attractive."

The New Old Town Team proposal was one of two received in August, Clark said. The other response did not meet requirements outlined in the request for proposals, she said.


The sites surround an open-air pedestrian mall lined by 19th-century buildings with a few shops and many vacancies that was the target of revitalization efforts dating back to the 1970s. In 2005, BDC awarded development rights to part of the site, where the Belair Market was razed in 2002, but that agreement expired in 2012.

Henson said his team already has met with some community groups and plans to flesh out its proposal in more detail in the coming months. The group will likely seek some public financing, he said.

"Nobody's going to believe it until they see it," Henson said. "It takes a while sometimes to make things happen. We're willing to do that here."