Mulberry Court attracts a crowd


The naysayers have warned for years that there is no market for new housing in the Eutaw Street corridor.

They've predicted that nothing, short of free rent, would entice people to move to the area north of Lexington Market.

But the so-called experts were wrong, by at least 100 people.

That's the number of residents who already have moved to Mulberry Court, the $4.2 million apartment complex that recently opened at the northeast corner of Mulberry and Eutaw streets. And more are on the way.

With its bluish-purple walls and bright yellow downspouts, the 62-unit complex is the first example of housing built from scratch in the Market Center area in nearly a decade. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III will cut the ribbon today at 10:30 a.m. to mark its completion.

The event also will mark the culmination of five years of work by developer Jay French and partner Tom Dowling, whose Metropolitan Contracting Co. built the apartments.

"There is a market for new housing . . . if the price is right," Mr. French said this week during a tour of Mulberry Court. "Out of 62 apartments, we have seven studios and two two-bedrooms that aren't leased. We put one sign out while we were under construction, and we were flooded with calls."

Mr. French said he believes Mulberry Court has attracted interest because of its rental structure and its unconventional design, which makes the most of the half-acre city parcel.

Monthly rents at Mulberry Court range from $326 to $495. But the apartments are available only to residents whose annual incomes fall below a certain figure.That was a condition of the city and state loans used to finance construction.

The design, by Cho, Wilks and Benn, adds greatly to its appeal. As conceived by partner David Benn, Mulberry Court is something of a cross between townhouses and garden apartments, and most apartments have private balconies or patios.

Instead of designing one monolithic block of apartments, the architects broke the complex down into three rows of housing and arranged them in a U-shaped configuration to frame a landscaped courtyard, a quiet oasis in the middle of the city.

Around the site's perimeter are nonresidential spaces, including six storefronts along Eutaw Street. Well-known for their playful use of color in affordable housing, the architects even specified bright colors for areas most people will never see, such as the teal on garage doors on narrow side streets.

"It makes a difference," said architect Jillian Storms, who also worked on the project. "It's an unexpected surprise when you're walking down the alley. You sort of go: 'Oh, somebody was here. A human touch.' "

Mr. French, crediting the Schmoke administration for helping him obtain the Mulberry Court financing, is now eager to build more shops and housing nearby.

"It's not a critical mass yet," he said. "We want to see more people living down here and doing business in the area. . . . If enough people work on it, anything can be done."

Movable fireworks

Some spectators of last week's fireworks display on Baltimore's waterfront got an unpleasant jolt: The barge with the biggest shells was closer to Fells Point than to the Inner Harbor. More than a few Federal Hill residents complained. Some suspected the fireworks barge was moved farther east at the request of residents in Fells Point and Canton.

Not so, says Bill Gilmore, Baltimore's director of promotion and unofficial fireworks czar. Federal guidelines establish "safety zones," he said. Marina construction next to Inner Harbor East dictated that the barge be moved farther out.

To compensate, the city asked Zambelli Internationale to use more of the large shells that can be seen from greater distances. Zambelli also set up a smaller barge near Harborplace. The entire show, which drew an estimated crowd of 175,000, cost $45,000. The main fireworks barge is likely to be at its new location from now on, Mr. Gilmore added.

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