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Calvert School preschool, Baltimore School of Music among tenants coming to Village of Cross Keys under new ownership

A preschool, a music school and a luxury real estate broker are among more than a dozen tenants to sign up for the Village of Cross Keys, a long-struggling North Baltimore retail and office complex under new ownership.

Towson-based Caves Valley Partners has signed its first round of leases since acquiring the center for $27 million in July, including Kiddie Calvert, run by the private Calvert School; the Baltimore School of Music; and Monument Sotheby’s International Realty. They are among 10 new and five existing lease signings and will move in by fall to the retail area of Village Square, Caves Valley said Tuesday.

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The developer also is in talks to bring in a small grocer and restaurants and has signed a letter of intent with a partner to develop a new, 350-unit luxury apartment building. Caves Valley also is negotiating several additional retail and office deals.

The first round of tenants signals a change in momentum for Cross Keys, said Arsh Mirmiran, who is leading the redevelopment for Caves Valley. The tenants’ clients and student families likely will become customers of the shops, eateries and grocery, he said.

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“The goal is to create a symbiotic relationship between office tenants and retail tenants,” said Mirmiran, who said he expects to quickly restore Cross Keys to prominence, “even in the midst of a pandemic.”

Caves Valley purchased Cross Keys from Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp., a New York real estate firm that also owns downtown Baltimore’s Harborplace, which was placed in court-ordered receivership more than a year ago.

Under the Cross Keys deal, Caves Valley assumed $20 million in debt. The center has struggled with neglect and the loss of tenants over several owners and was about 60% to 65% occupied in both retail and office portions at the time of the acquisition.

Caves Valley put down a nonrefundable deposit March 9, days after the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in Maryland and about a week before schools and much of the economy shut down. Despite shocks to the economy and countless business closures, Mirmiran and his partners say they still see the long-term potential of Cross Keys.

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The private Calvert School, expanding with its first off-campus facility in the school’s nearly 125 year history, will open its second Kiddie Calvert early childhood center to accommodate about 100 children aged 10 weeks to 5 years old. Enrollment already is open for the fall, said Andrew Holmgren, the school’s headmaster, in the announcement.

Monument Sotheby’s, a brokerage with a focus on luxury homes, plans to consolidate several offices and open a flagship location at Cross Keys. The firm wanted to move there, said co-owner Charlie Hatter, because of a “shared vision for the resurgence of Baltimore, and Cross Keys’ central location, which makes it easy to get to almost anywhere in the Baltimore area within a short drive.”

The Baltimore School of Music also plans to open by the fall. It’s owned by James Lowe, a classically trained guitarist and alumnus of the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University. The school’s team of music teachers will offer instruction in instruments, voice and composition.

Lease signings also include new and existing office tenants, Mirmiran said.

Sandy Hillman Communications, a Baltimore-based public relations firm serving local and national clients, will relocate to Cross Keys, too. The center was attractive because it offers out-of-town clients on-site hotel accommodations and a convenient drive to Penn Station and Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport, said Sandy Hillman, the firm’s president. And it offers shopping, dining and parking for the staff, which eventually will return from remote work, she said in an announcement.

Other new office tenants include health practices, law firms, a massage therapist, a nonprofit group and others. Mirmiran said he hopes to fully lease the center’s office buildings by next year.

The developer is finishing interior upgrades at The Quadrangle office buildings and plans to start construction this spring on improvements to the entrance gatehouse and the interiors and facades of the Village Square office and retail space.

Mirmiran said he hopes to finalize a deal with a small grocer by the spring. And he expects interest from restaurateurs to pick up once pandemic restrictions begin to lift.

For now, while office and medical tenants have been willing to move forward, he said, “restaurant tenants are apprehensive about making moves without knowing where the city and pandemic are going.”

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