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Vacant, derelict houses get new life as apartments


A once-derelict row of vacant town houses on North Avenue was officially reborn yesterday as Boundary Square, a $4 million, 67-unit apartment complex that has brought new life to the area across from Baltimore's school system headquarters.

Located at 303 to 327 W. North Avenue -- once the city's northern boundary -- the 12 houses date from the 1880s and were vacant for seven years before a group headed

by J. Thomas Dowling and Jay French began rebuilding them in March of 1990.

Mayor Kurt Schmoke and other city officials gathered yesterday to find the exteriors of the ornate brick houses have been restored to their former elegance and the interiors have been completely rebuilt.

"It is tremendously encouraging to see the dramatic transformation these buildings have undergone," the mayor said.

"The completion of this project marks a major achievement for theGreenmount West neighborhood, for the city, and for our ongoing redevelopment efforts," added the city housing commissioner, Robert Hearn.

The first tenant, Gwen Wilson, moved in Aug. 1. The apartments are 50 percent leased, with rents ranging from $350 per month for an efficiency to $429 per month for a two-bedroom unit. As part of the project, the developers and the city each invested $25,000 to create a playground for the community.

Mr. Dowling, chief executive officer of Metropolitan Contracting Co., put together a financing package that included city and state funds and one of the last federal Urban Development Action Grants awarded before that program's funding was eliminated. The French Co. is handling management and expects the apartments to be fully leased by the end of the year.

City officials say the next residential project planned for the area is construction of 33 town houses in the Johnston Square neighborhood at a cost of $2.75 million. That project is planned by the Enterprise Foundation and The Network, a group of minority businesses in East Baltimore, and it has the financial backing of the non-profit Community Development Financing Corp.

In partnership with Leslie Rock, Mr. Dowling is one of several developers who bid to recycle eight city-owned town houses at 2018 to 2032 Maryland Ave. The plan, which calls for the houses to be converted to a $1.47 million, 27-unit apartment complex, recently won the endorsement of the Charles North Community Association. One participant of a community advisory committee that made the endorsement said members backed the proposal largely because they were impressed with the Boundary Square work.

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