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New Greenmount arts residence hits right note

New Greenmount arts residence hits right note
Developer Charles B. Duff, left, and Sean Closkey with Reinvestment Fund, are pictured in the dance studio of the City Arts Building 2 which plans to open in mid-November. In the background are Dominick Dunnigan, Business Development, Malindi Lankatilleke, project manager, far right. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

The new apartment house at 1700 Greenmount Ave. smells of fresh paint and masonry dust.

The elevators don't work yet, but there are only eight units left to rent at City Arts 2, an unusual building that marries two uses: Some 45 apartments will be leased to artists who meet certain income requirements, and another 15 will be for nonelderly disabled persons.

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"It's Baltimore's second apartment building for artists," said Charles B. Duff, president of Jubilee Baltimore, a partner in the project and in City Arts 1, located just down the street.

"We've built a proper dance studio here," he said as he showed off a ground-floor chamber overlooking Green Mount Cemetery's stone walls. "You can dance for hours and not ruin your joints."

A similar room is set aside for writers, poets and fashion and graphic designers. The counters for a coffee bar were being installed this week and should be ready for opening day Dec. 1.

"A large percentage of our artists are not visual arts," Duff said. "We have many movement and digital artists moving in."

The four-story, $16 million apartment building is the newest component in a strategy that began 14 years ago, when Baltimore was shaken by the arson-murder of the Dawson family in the Oliver neighborhood in East Baltimore.

Sean Closkey, president of the development subsidiary of Philadelphia's Reinvestment Fund, said that shortly after the fire, a delegation of ministers from Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development approached the fund, which has projects in states across the country.

"We took a long look at Baltimore and at Oliver," Closkey said. "We saw how we might help and identified two points — Pennsylvania Station and the Johns Hopkins medical campus."

Closkey said the organization has invested about $85 million in Greenmount West and Oliver, plus "another $100 million to support social services, arts and education."

City Arts 2 is a part of the Reinvestment Fund's vision to rebuild East Baltimore, including the renovation of dozens of once-abandoned neighborhood buildings.

Closkey said the fund is also planning to build five new houses in Barclay in addition to 23 other residences that have been refurbished on the streets that adjoin City Arts 2.

"We had to do multiple investments at the same time," he said. "You can't just build a stand-alone big building. You have to renovate the vacant little houses that surround it. That is what helps a neighborhood."

Closkey stresses that City Arts 2 is a collaborative effort; several nonprofits, including Jubilee Baltimore, are working in concert to rebuild the neighborhood. The majority partner is Homes for America, a nonprofit housing agency based in Annapolis.

"I love the project, and the impact it's going to have on the Greenmount West neighborhood is profound," said Polly Duke, vice president of Homes of America.

"Not enough people know what is going on here," Duke said. "If anybody was skeptical about the success of the Arts and Entertainment District, that skepticism has run its course."

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Architects Hord Coplan Macht worked to make City Arts 2 fit into Greenmount Avenue. Several apartments have front doors facing the busy street.

Other apartments, on the upper floors, overlook Green Mount Cemetery's Victorian monuments and vaults.

Malindi Lankatilleke, construction manager for Southway Builders, said that as an arts building, the apartments have specific amenities such as industrial sinks for painters who have to clean their brushes.

Because the mix of tenants spans the definition of arts, however, some renters may not find that amenity particularly useful.

As she walked through a nearly complete, two-bedroom corner apartment, Lankatilleke said the renter of that particular unit "will not be using that sink."

Why not?

"She's an opera singer," she said.

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