When Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III outlined his vision for Cherry Hill in a meeting of community leaders last month, he singled out a developer for praise: Michael Tisdale, who is building Marie's Landing.
Henson plans to demolish scores of rental units in Cherry Hill Homes, Baltimore's largest public housing project. And he says he wants to replace them with developments such as Marie's Landing, 13 owner-occupied town homes on Joseph Avenue in Cherry Hill. Marie's Landing is such a success, Henson told the meeting, that Tisdale could be tapped to construct more homes in the neighborhood.
But a look at Marie's Landing also reveals some significant troubles.
The development, originally scheduled for completion in July, is not finished. Even though city officials predict a January completion, an important exterior wall has collapsed twice and not been fixed. And Tisdale has defaulted on more than $1 million in loans, including a $390,000 loan from the city's Department of Housing and Community Development, which Henson heads.
City officials claim the problems can be attributed to unusually wet weather that caused delays. Tisdale says such troubles are typical and stem from the "technicality" of his not being able to meet his payment schedule. Officials point out that a consent degree signed by Tisdale and creditors has allowed the project to go forward.
"We had an extremely wet spring and summer," says Wayne Frazier, executive vice president of the Baltimore Community Development Financing Corp., which lent Tisdale $270,140. "That in and of itself is the reason we came together and established this consent agreement."
Another factor in the troubles has been the relative inexperience of Tisdale, 46, officials acknowledge. While he had rehabilitated dozens of city houses, Marie's Landing was his first construction project, Tisdale says.
"The first time with a new construction project is a lot of headaches, and you learn a lot," Tisdale says. "But now that I've done one, I think I can do more."
Tisdale's development of the 13 town homes has landed in the spotlight because of a push by community leaders to increase the rate of homeownership in Cherry Hill, where about 85 percent of residents are renters.
Henson has expressed support for the effort. He said last month that he was worried about the "density of poverty" in the southern city neighborhood, where the median household income is just more than $15,000 a year. And while he said that renovations to 1,237 of Cherry Hill Homes' 1,597 units were going well, the 360 remaining units may not be worth saving.
Many of these units are across Joseph Avenue from Marie's Landing, and Henson said he believes that area of the neighborhood will become more middle class. Tisdale's experience with the project makes him a natural candidate for helping with the transformation of the area.
By one important measure, Marie's Landing has been a success. Tisdale says all 13 town homes have been sold in advance, although none is ready for occupancy. And Tisdale says the community has rallied to his project, which is named after his mother.
But Marie's Landing is far behind schedule. In March, Tisdale told The Sun that he expected families to be moving in by July.
"It has been difficult, but to do it in honor of my mother, who is still living, is special," Tisdale says now.
The story behind Marie's Landing begins more than 40 years ago, in Cherry Hill. Born in 1950, Tisdale grew up on Windwood Court. He worked for grocery stores, which eventually took him out of the neighborhood, and it wasn't until the 1980s that he began to dabble in real estate.
A few years after purchasing a house in Reservoir Hill for $25,000 in 1978, he began to buy properties in the area and rehabilitate them. Banks would rarely lend him money, so he came to rely on the Community Development Financing Corp. created by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke eight years ago as a lender of last resort for housing improvements.
"CDFC was a blessing," Tisdale says.
After doing dozens of rehabs, he yearned to build something himself, he says. In 1992, he began the Marie's Landing project.
"I didn't know anything about building houses. I was just doing rehab," he says. But the encouragement of Henson and CDFC Director Frank Coakley persuaded him to go forward.
The $1.2 million project was based on three loans: $270,140 from CDFC, $390,000 from the city, and $493,183 from Key Federal Savings Bank. Despite the problems, Key Federal has been "very supportive" of the project, says Frazier.
The cost of building each home was $90,000, but the government subsidy put the sales price at $59,560. Some buyers were allowed to put as little as $500 down. Tisdale says he had 350 inquiries and it was easy to sell all the town homes -- two-story, three-bedroom units with magnificent views of the middle branch of Patapsco.
The site, in the 2800 block of Joseph Ave., had been a vacant, wooded lot, where drug dealers and prostitutes were able to hide. Tisdale cleared it, and the com- munity was supportive. The building project was not bothered by the same pilferage that commonly slows the renovation of public housing projects.
"It proved there was a market for home ownership," Tisdale says. "This community is strong."
But this year, with construction under way, Tisdale began having problems with contractors, he says.
Jimmy Little, 64, who did masonry work for Marie's Landing, says some of the work and strategies used by contractors were substandard.
A key problem was the main exterior wall at the end of one set of the town homes. Little says that materials in the wall weren't thick enough, and that builders were careless in the way they piled and filled dirt near it. Around June 1, that wall, on the north end of the town home that will be 2843 Joseph Ave., collapsed, Little says.
Still not fixed
Six months later, the wall still has not been fixed. Little says he believes it will take more than a few weeks to repair the damage and complete Marie's Landing.
Little says that while Tisdale paid him on time for his initial brick work, he declined to do some recent brick-cleaning for the developer because "he didn't have no money to pay me." Tisdale says that Little never showed up for a brick-cleaning assignment and that he is surprised by the criticism. If there were any problems with the building materials, Tisdale says, he was not aware of them.
Records show that Tisdale defaulted on all three loans -- to CDFC, to the bank and to the city. On Sept. 20, he signed a consent agreement with creditors to give the project a chance for completion. Tisdale had to switch contractors and inspection consultants under the pact.
"The borrower has defaulted under the loans and has requested the CDFC assist in completion of construction of the project," the agreement says.
To city and CDFC officials, such defaults are sometimes part of a noble goal: "to assist new developers to become experienced," says Frazier.
James R. Majors, chief of multifamily and commercial development at the housing agency, says sticking with Tisdale on his first project was worth it. Finding developers who are from the community where they build is important, and Tisdale has the respect of Cherry Hill residents, Majors says.
Pub Date: 12/10/96