An industrial building in Station North that once housed dozens of artists and a rock opera troupe before it was condemned two years ago was sold to a developer who pledged to create safe and affordable space for artists to live and work.
The Bell Foundry building at 1539 N. Calvert St. was sold to Zahlco Development for $725,000, and the developer plans a multimillion-dollar investment to restore the structure and build new residences for the community.
“The building was a safe haven for lot of artists to work there and live there, but it was not up to code,” said Yonah Zahler, CEO of Zahlco development. “There is a certain energy the area has. That attracted us to the neighborhood. We really believe in the neighborhood and we want to bring back that world.”
Now Zahlco plans to build a new apartment building on an empty lot behind the foundry building with 50 small one-bedroom and studio units renting for under $1,000 a month. The company also will improve the 13,000-square-foot foundry building itself and allow the Baltimore Rock Opera Society to continue working on the first floor.
Zahler said the company is still assessing the second floor and basement but wants to configure new space for other artists to work and possibly have shows or performances.
He’s also looking at a park and other space on the block to see how it can be improved.
The foundry building had hosted artists of varying backgrounds and regularly offered live performances, including by the rock opera group. But it was shuttered after a fire in Oakland, Calif., killed 36 people and city officials went inspecting Baltimore’s properties. They found safety violations and deplorable conditions at the Bell Foundry and evicted dozens of local artists who had unsanctioned working and living quarters.
Co-owner Joseph McNeely, owner since 2006, put the building up for sale and said at the time he hoped for a redevelopment.
The building at North Calvert and East Federal streets is near Penn Station in the city’s Station North Arts and Entertainment District, designated in 2002 for arts work spaces, galleries and studios. There have been multiple major projects in the community by small investors and major institutions such as Maryland Institute College of Art and the Johns Hopkins University.