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Lease to reopen Peale Museum considered

City officials are expected to approve a lease agreement Wednesday with a nonprofit to renovate and reopen the former Peale Museum with a cafe, library and learning center dedicated to the city's history and architecture.

The Board of Estimates will vote whether to grant a three-year lease of the building to the Peale Center for Baltimore History and Architecture for $1. The old museum, near City Hall on North Holliday Street, has been vacant since 1997.

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The nonprofit is working to raise $4 million for the project. So far, it has commitments for about $580,000, including a $250,000 city bond that voters will be asked to approve in November.

James D. Dilts, president of the nonprofit's board, said the group hopes to reopen the museum in 2016.

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"Baltimore is one of the few cities of its size that does not have a museum that tells the story of how the city was founded and how it was developed," Dilts said. "We want to tell people the story of Baltimore."

The 200-year-old Peale museum building has been used as the first City Hall, a school for African-American children and a gas-lit gallery in connection with the first commercial gas company in America.

Under the agreement, the nonprofit would display a plaque honoring the property as home to the "Male and Female Colored School No. 1."

If the nonprofit is able to complete certain improvements, including stabilizing the structure and making it handicap accessible, the city may add another 47 years to the lease. Under the terms of the lease, the city agrees to replace the roof and temporarily maintain the building. The lease also calls for the nonprofit to pay the city 7 percent of any earnings over $250,000 a year.

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Plans also call for the building to house exhibits, a lecture hall and office space. When the building reopens, the nonprofit wants to make it a destination along the city's 3.2 mile Heritage Walk. The building is one of the walk's 20 "star attractions."

A fundraiser for the Peale is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Nov. 1 at the Carroll Mansion, 800 E. Lombard St., featuring a silhouette artist and artwork on display and for sale.

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