Ravens offensive tackle Eugene Monroe has more than four years left on his team contract, but he's already trying his hand at another game: real estate.
The 27-year-old player founded a development firm in February with a former college teammate. The business, 4th Down Partners, is one of a group of investors in the $250 million redevelopment planned between Federal Hill and M&T Bank Stadium in Sharp-Leadenhall.
The venture with Towson developer Caves Valley Partners is set to be formally announced today, as Monroe gets a breather during a week without football games. 4th Down said it also has a property under contract on Georgia Avenue in Washington.
"I've been around the league long enough to see players get to retirement and have no idea what they want to do, or think they have a plan but don't prepare for it while they're playing," Monroe said in a statement. "I am eager to get started now, within the time I have as a player."
Monroe, a New Jersey native, joined the Ravens last year after a star turn at the University of Virginia and four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract with the Ravens in March.
Discussions about entering real estate and business began in college, said Keith Payne Jr., who co-owns 4th Down Partners with Monroe. The two played at Virginia, shared an agent and have collaborated on other, unspecified business ventures, Payne said.
4th Down approached Caves Valley about Stadium Square after the project was announced this past summer.
"Being able to affect the neighborhood with great amenities and things of that nature is something that I think is life-changing for the community, and to be a part of something like that, that's something you can carry forever," said Payne, 27, who said he became interested in development after seeing family friends work in the business.
The Stadium Square plans call for apartments, offices and stores — and almost 2,000 parking spots — in three blocks roughly bounded by Cross, Race, Leadenhall and Ostend streets. The area, part of a historically African-American neighborhood, is dominated by warehouses and other industrial properties.
About 10 groups are invested in the project, including the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation and David D. Smith, owner of Bagby Restaurant Group and CEO of the Sinclair Broadcast Group, said developer Arsh Mirmiran of Caves Valley Partners, who disclosed some of those people at a meeting with residents this fall.
Mirmiran and Payne declined to say how much 4th Down is investing in the project. Monroe, who lives in Owings Mills and whose wife grew up in Columbia, was at a Ravens practice and unavailable for an interview Monday.
"We pitched them just like we pitched all other investors," Mirmiran said of 4th Down. "They did their due diligence and decided to invest in it."
Caves Valley often has family and friends participate in projects as investors, but it's rare to have someone the principals don't know approach them, Mirmiran said.
Caves Valley expects to start moving forward with Stadium Square's public planning process early next year, he said. The first $80 million-$90 million phase of the project expected to be about 300 residential units set above storefronts along Cross Street.
Property assembly so far has cost more than $12.3 million, including $100,000 paid to the city in September for 123 W. Cross St., according to state records.
Caves Valley also committed to building a new community center on property that belongs to the Leadenhall Baptist Church.
Resident Betty Bland-Thomas, president of the South Baltimore Partnership and an advocate for maintaining the neighborhood's affordability, said she wants to see specific building designs and work out an agreement with the developer for additional community benefits.
She also hopes the participation of a Ravens player will open paths for more involvement by the team in the neighborhood.
"Hopefully, this will bring us all to the table to have more of an intimate relationship," she said. "We're literally neighbors, and yet there's no engagement, so I definitely welcome that opportunity."
Former Ravens player Ray Lewis also became involved in real estate deals in Baltimore, working to develop an entertainment complex in Hunt Valley that ran into problems during the recession. He worked with Cormany Development, which proposed building a sportsplex on a site that instead became Baltimore's Horseshoe Casino.
Mirmiran, who was a regular at football and basketball games during his years at the University of Virginia as an undergraduate and business student, said he had "zero apprehension" about the participation of the two athletes. Payne is involved on a day-to-day basis, while Monroe's involvement is expected to grow in the offseason, he said.
"They have a very strong interest in real estate and had already started moving in that direction themselves, so it wasn't just two guys who were like, 'Let's invest,' " Mirmiran said.
Payne said 4th Down is scouting for other development opportunities.
"It's not like this is something we're trying," he said. "This is something we're fully committed to."