Maryland Institute buys former Women's Hospital


The Maryland Institute, College of Art has purchased the former Women's Hospital building in Baltimore's Bolton Hill historic district for $1 million and plans to convert it to a residence hall for about 225 students at an estimated cost of $10 million to $12 million.

The sale, made final Thursday, marks a new chapter for the property at 140 W. Lafayette Ave., a blocklong building that has been vacant for seven years and has been the focus of concern about neighborhood blight.

"It's a positive development," said George Lavdas, a Bolton Hill resident who has led the effort to find an appropriate owner for the former hospital. "We're very pleased that an institution that has been a good neighbor is going to be the owner. We look forward to working with them."

Scheduled for completion in the fall of 2002, the residence hall will supplement a 350-bed dormitory called the Commons that the institute built in 1990.

It is one of three major projects the college has planned to accommodate recent growth and to prepare for the years ahead.

The second is a $10 million, 60,000-square-foot academic building planned for completion at 1301 Mount Royal Ave. by late 2003.

The third is the $585,000 acquisition in July of the former Jos. A. Bank sewing plant in the 100 block of W. North Ave., a five-story building. The first floor is used for graduate studies.

Fits with long-range plans

College President Fred Lazarus said the hospital purchase is consistent with long-range plans - especially the goal to provide housing for 40 percent of the college's nearly 1,300 students.

While the Commons provides housing for freshmen and transfer students, the converted 100,000- square-foot hospital will have apartment-style living quarters for "upper division undergraduates" and graduate students, he said.

"I can't think of a better use," Lazarus said. "It's a good-looking building. It's something we definitely need. It's very central to us."

Art students work around the clock and increasingly want good housing close to their studios and classrooms, he said.

"With the area upgrading, there are fewer and fewer affordable beds for students, so they need new kinds of housing," Lazarus said.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the six-story building occupies most of the block bounded by Lafayette Avenue and John, Mosher and Brevard streets. It dates from 1886 and was expanded in 1888, 1909 and 1929. Portions were designed by the noted architect Joseph Evans Sperry.

The building was constructed to house the Hospital for the Women of Maryland and remained its home until the 1960s. The women's hospital joined forces with the Presbyterian Eye, Ear and Throat Charity Hospital of East Baltimore in the 1960s and moved to Baltimore County. The replacement hospital is called Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

Converted to nursing home

The former hospital property was converted to a nursing home and run by a succession of operators until the early 1990s, when it was closed and put up for sale. In 1992, it was acquired at auction for $825,000 by a company that had foreclosed on the property.

The previous owner was Bolton Hill John Street LLC, a partnership controlled by Baltimore businessman David Hurwitz.

Lazarus said the transaction is considered a "gift sale," and that the sellers will be eligible for a tax deduction equal to the difference between the sale price and the building's appraised value. The sellers had been seeking $1.5 million for it.

On Friday, the previous owners are scheduled to appear at a city housing court hearing to determine whether they violated a consent decree that required them to sell or fix up the building by last fall.

Last month, Mayor Martin O'Malley told residents he would consider having the city acquire the building by eminent domain as a way of expediting its redevelopment.

The contempt hearing most likely will be dismissed now that the building has been sold, said Denise Duval, deputy commissioner of the city Department of Housing and Community Development.

'Good' for community, buyer

"We're pleased that the result is a good one for the community and the buyer," Duval said. "It's exactly what we want code enforcement to help accomplish."

"There's no question that pressure from the community brought the seller to the table," Lazarus said. "This has been a long and difficult negotiation, and all of us at [the college] are very grateful for the pressure that has been applied by the community through the city to help resolve the matter. Without this, nothing would have happened."

D. R. Brasher Inc. of Columbia is the architect for the conversion, which is being designed to provide 50 to 60 apartments containing 225 beds; college food service operations; a small fitness center; and facilities for academic programming and other student-related spaces.

Exterior can be preserved

Lazarus said the architects' preliminary work indicates that the exterior of the hospital can be preserved, including the power plant in the rear, but that the interior must be torn out and rebuilt.

He said the college acquired the property with funds it had on hand and expects to use tax-exempt bond financing and other sources to pay for the conversion.

Lazarus has asked the neighborhood improvement association to appoint a "working group" to meet with college representatives during the planning and construction process, to address issues such as parking and possible changes to the exterior of the building.

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