Patterson Park group protests auction

The Patterson Park Neighborhood Association is protesting a bank's decision to auction off a key commercial building in the East Baltimore community rather than sell it to a group of residents who organized to buy the property.

The empty building, at the corner of Baltimore Street and Linwood Avenue, had been a community gathering spot. The Patterson Park Community Development Corp., a nonprofit that reversed the spread of blight in the neighborhood by rehabbing homes, moved its offices there several years ago and rented out the first floor to a restaurant. But then the CDC crumbled under the weight of the housing bust and the restaurant closed.

Lender M&T Bank — which is owed more than $790,000 — already put the property up for auction in February but declined to accept the winning bid of $298,000, made by residents who wanted local control of a neighborhood focal point. Another auction is scheduled for Tuesday.

The neighborhood association said it sent M&T a letter Wednesday to "strenuously protest" the second auction after learning that the group of residents had made two subsequent offers that also were rejected. The association's board wrote that the residents' group is the only interested bidder "who has shown any interest in responsibly investing in our neighborhood." The association wants M&T to "deal realistically" with the would-be investors.

"We're a neighborhood that has come a long way, but we're still kind of at a tipping point," said Heather Hurley, the association's president. A long period of vacancy in the building or a conversion to apartments "could be detrimental in many ways."

M&T officials declined to comment, noting that the CDC's bankruptcy proceedings remain a continuing legal matter.

Carlos Plazas, one of the six residents trying to purchase the property, said he hadn't seen the letter and didn't ask the association to write it. He's still hopeful the group will end up with the building. The residents, who all live within a few blocks of the site, plan to bid again at the next auction.

With help from the Southeast Community Development Corp., the neighbors have lined up three potential tenants — a restaurateur, a nonprofit and an architecture firm, Plazas said. They also sought advice from two nonprofits active in Patterson Park, the Abell Foundation and Healthy Neighborhoods.

"If it was any other building in the neighborhood … we probably wouldn't have been as aggressive," said Plazas, an accounting manager who acted as the group's representative to M&T. "But that building is so significant for the neighborhood that we just wanted it to stay in the right hands."

Mark Sissman, president of Healthy Neighborhoods, said his group offered financing advice and "tried to open a door to M&T." The bank sits on Healthy Neighborhoods' board and is a major participant in the nonprofit's $40 million loan pool for home purchases and home improvement.

"To their credit, they were there from the beginning," Sissman said.

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