As an eight-story apartment building starts to rise in Station North, public officials, community members and celebrities used the occasion to celebrate the renaissance of the neighborhood — and call for more investment across the city.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and "Wire" actor Wendell Pierce were among those on hand to mark the groundbreaking of the Nelson-Kohl building, the latest investment in a neighborhood that has evolved from a handful of nightspots into a larger, more lively district.
Pierce is an investor in the $25 million project by developer Ernst Valery, which introduces a market-rate, multifamily building to the area, an arts district that the city and others have targeted for redevelopment, thanks in part to its proximity to Penn Station.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the change in Station North makes it "one of the brightest examples" of neighborhood improvement. Cummings also praised the growth, contrasting it with vacancies of earlier days.
"Every time I would drive up here, I'd tell my wife that this should be an area that is bustling, and it is actually happening," he said. "We are actually seeing it happen."
Cummings said he hopes the new building will help advance the progress, spurring the redevelopment of Penn Station and other lots controlled by Amtrak, a long-stalled project that he has pressed the rail agency to get going. Amtrak is supposed to announce finalists for a master developer contest next month.
"My next task when I leave here is to write a letter to Amtrak letting them know that I was here, letting them know that we're expecting great things very soon," Cummings said. "This project in and of itself hopefully will cause Amtrak to realize that no matter what, we're moving forward."
The Nelson-Kohl building, located on a former parking lot at 20 E. Lanvale St. just north of Penn Station, is expected to open in fall 2017. Developed by SA+A Development, where Valery is a principal, the building will house 103 market-rate apartments, a Milk and Honey Market and gallery space. (Valery and his wife, Dana, also ran the Milk and Honey Market on Cathedral Street, which closed in anticipation of the new location.)
Valery also was involved in the renovation of the nearby Chesapeake building on Charles Street. The Baltimore Development Corp. started the property acquisition that led to the two projects more than a decade ago, engaging in an eminent domain fight before reaching a deal with a previous owner who had let the buildings languish.
Valery said he has a 99-year lease on the land from Michael Shecter, whose family is a longtime stakeholder in the area.
The project, financed by a $15 million loan from Old Line Bank and equity from other partners, is expected to create about 180 construction jobs and 25 to 30 permanent jobs upon completion, Valery said. Plans by Pennsylvania-based LSC Design call for a modern look that echoes other nearby structures at the University of Baltimore and Maryland Institute College of Art.
Pierce, who played Detective William "Bunk" Moreland on "The Wire," jumped in as an investor in response to the 2015 riots. He said he hopes the building, and an associated apprenticeship program, will be the start of more economically inclusive development throughout Baltimore, which he described as his "second home."
"This is just that stone in the lake which will reverberate across this city," he said. "What's happening here in Station North is going to go to the west side and the east side and all about."