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Strong City steps boldly in its move to Baltimore’s east side

Grand windows in the Hoen Lithography building overlook the Amtrak line along Biddle Street in East Baltimore.
Grand windows in the Hoen Lithography building overlook the Amtrak line along Biddle Street in East Baltimore. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

The moving trucks left North Baltimore on a foggy December morning. They hauled desks and computers to the old Hoen lithography plant at Biddle and Chester streets in East Baltimore. Workers at the nonprofit Strong City Baltimore were dazzled at their new digs and the transformation of the former industrial loft space that had been closed since 1981.

“The vibe of this spot is amazing,” said Strong City’s chief executive officer, Karen D. Stokes, as she sidestepped painters and carpenters. “This was once a place where people worked, and now jobs training will happen right here.”

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Stokes said it was time to leave her agency’s old quarters in the basement of University Baptist Church and in an apartment building in the 3500 block of N. Charles St.

“We’ve made it to Biddle Street today,” she said Friday. “This is a hustle-bustle place.”

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The Hoen restoration, a $30 million project, is one many dramatic changes to Baltimore neighborhoods in 2019.

Joining Strong City Baltimore within the Hoen campus will be the Construction Education Academy of the Associated Building Contractors, City Life Community Builders and Cross Street Partners.

A few blocks away, at Wolfe and Gay streets, another east-side complex also came back to life in 2019. Once a blighted eyesore, the former Baltimore City Eastern High Service Pumping Station and its grounds are in the midst of a makeover as the Baltimore Food Hub. Its goal is to bring employment and neighborhood amenities back to the Broadway East neighborhood.

A dramatic refurbishment of a former Department of Public Works structure at Wolfe and Oliver streets was completed this year at the Food Hub site. It joins other Gay Street corridor institutions — the American Brewery and the Southern Baptist Church — in an effort to bring new investment to a part of the old city.

Less visible than the old industrial plants, with their stout brick walls and chimneys, are the dozens of rowhouses that were renovated throughout the Oliver and Broadway East communities. The year 2019 saw work begin at Henderson Crossing, where 53 homes are being totally rebuilt at Madison and Madeira streets.

A pair of old city markets reopened in a repurposed style. The Cross Street Market in Federal Hill/South Baltimore is now more of a food hall. The Broadway Market in Fells Point welcomed back some of its old merchants and a new venture, the Choptank, a seafood restaurant.

As Baltimore lost population dramatically in the last 30 years, blocks of its 19th-century homes became vacant. A concerted effort to demolish and clear out vacants in West and East Baltimore continued in 2019.

The harbor’s skyline changed this year. The Avalon Bay residences topped off at the edge of Little Italy. And at Harbor Point, the Wills Wharf office structure took shape. The reconstruction of a major neighborhood route, Central Avenue, wrapped up, allowing better access to Liberty Harbor East, a residential building whose lower floors hold a new Whole Foods grocery store.

Construction began at Port Covington on Cromwell Street on the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River. The new structures, whose foundations are now under way, will join the existing Sagamore Spirit Distillery and Rye Street Tavern.

Downtown Baltimore saw the reopening and lavish refurbishment of the former Alex. Brown & Sons building as the Alexander Brown Restaurant.

There were transformations within neighborhoods. The Mother Seton Academy at Greenmount and 22nd streets added a new $3 million gymnasium facing Boone Street. The Beth Am Congregation renovated its landmark synagogue in Reservoir Hill. A dramatic restoration brought the stair tower in the Clifton Mansion back to its 19th-century appearance.

Another old Baltimore landmark changed. The year 2019 saw major engineering works at Druid Lake, which is being excavated for new underground storage tanks.

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