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Church buys 26 acres in the city


The New Psalmist Baptist Church has purchased a rare large tract of land for sale in the city, a 26-acre West Baltimore enclave that was last used by a psychiatric hospital.

The parcel off Frederick Avenue is grassy, sloping and tree-lined, and cost the 7,500 church members $1.4 million. Church officials are evaluating which of the five buildings can be saved and reused for outreach, education or community gathering places. The church's board of directors, which plans neighborhood meetings, has not yet decided what to do with its new space.

"There may be many uses," said Edward Smith Jr., the church's attorney. He is chairman and chief executive officer of the church-affiliated, nonprofit community development group Sankofa Community Development Corp. "There are some uses a growing church has. We'll consult with the neighborhood to make sure they are compatible."

Smith said the church was considering building a gymnasium that the neighbors could use. The church already provides some other community services such as drug treatment and family services, and wants to find other ways to improve the area, especially since it's taking another large tract off the tax rolls.

The buildings and property have been empty since the Gundry/Glass Hospital closed and filed for bankruptcy protection in 1998. An investor group, SP Investment Corp. Inc., bought it with the intention of finding another user, said Tim Hearn, a broker at KLNB Inc. who closed the deal.

He said SP Investment Corp. maintained the 6 acres of woods, 20 acres of grass and five buildings, totaling 40,000 square feet. Hearn and Smith said it was once considered as a site for affordable housing by the city, but the church does not intend to build any residential properties.

Hearn said that with few chances to buy such a large parcel, he thought area churches might be interested in it. New Psalmist already owns about 22.8 acres nearby.

"Finding 26 acres for sale in the city is unusual," Hearn said.

At least one of the structures might be worthy of listing on national and state historic rolls, local preservationists said. A spot on the list means the church could obtain tax credits for restoration efforts.

Smith said the building, a 19th-century stone house, is not on any historic list now, but he would look into the designation process.

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