Actor Wendell Pierce, famous for playing detective William "Bunk" Moreland on "The Wire," said Monday that he hopes his involvement in a $20 million apartment complex in Station North is just the beginning of his investment in the city.
Pierce is one of developer Ernst Valery's partners on the project, a 103-unit apartment building on Lanvale Street. They hope to form a group of "good developers" who can also tackle projects in West Baltimore as well as help train local youths to do their own real estate work, Pierce said.
"This is the first of hopefully many projects," he said, adding that he also has looked at sites in West Baltimore.
"Especially after what happened in Baltimore last summer, I wanted to have an answer to it," he said in an interview.
Valery, a principal of SA+A Development, introduced the plans for the Nelson Kohl building to the city last year, winning approval from the city's design panel for the apartment project in October. He hopes to break ground in July.
The complex, on land that is now a parking lot, is slated to have a Milk & Honey market, a yoga studio and an art gallery. Valery has said previously that he expects to charge about $2.20 per square foot for the apartments, but wants to keep prices affordable for a mix of renters.
It's not the first time Pierce has tried his hand at development.
In 2007, he created a community development corporation in New Orleans to rebuild Pontchartrain Park, his hometown neighborhood, which was devastated in Hurricane Katrina. The group has built 40 homes to date, with delays as the group worked to obtain properties through government programs, he said.
Pierce said the Station North project held a different appeal, as a privately financed endeavor that dovetailed with the arts, while helping to spur economic development.
"I'm an artist first, so I was attracted to the idea that the two can co-exist," he said.
Valery, who also was involved in renovating the nearby Chesapeake building in Station North, was one of the people he considered working with on the New Orleans project, Pierce said. The two men found that they shared similar philosophies about using development to help foster social justice.
"My ideology is going into underserved communities and seeing them as emerging markets," Pierce said. "If we can look at India, at China as emerging markets, we can go into our inner cities."
Pierce and Valery declined to say how much Pierce is investing. Stratford Capital's Jerry Nelson and Kinsley Construction are also involved.
Valery said the six-month apprenticeship program, on which they are working with TRF Development Partners, a group involved in several redevelopment projects in East Baltimore, will start out with about five people, expanding to 10 or 15.
"Station North is a wonderful, growing economic engine, and the people of West Baltimore should be able to participate in that growth," Pierce said.