Blink and you might miss a nondescript warehouse in the 3300 block of Clipper Mill Road in Hampden.
But David Tufaro and his daughter, Jennifer Nolley, are betting an estimated $22 million that their redevelopment of the 200,000-square-foot structure — with a planned Belvedere Square-type market and a restaurant in the old boiler room — will be a can't-miss proposition.
In the past three years, Tufaro, of Roland Park, has turned a 19th-century textile mill on Falls Road into Mill No. 1, a mixed-use retail, housing and office complex overlooking the Jones Falls stream. Now, Tufaro's company, Terra Nova Ventures, hopes to start redeveloping the Civil War-era building at 3300 Clipper Mill Road by this spring.
The high-ceilinged main building, with a chimney visible from Interstate 83, was built in 1865 as the Whitehall Cotton Mill. That would be its name as a complex of 27 market-rate, loft-style apartments, mostly one-bedrooms and studios; a market with 18,000 square feet of rentable space; a 6,300-square-foot restaurant with a mezzanine; and 2,300 square feet of office space, plus a one-story parking garage and a pedestrian bridge for emergency evacuation in case the Jones Falls floods. Electrical transformers will be built on stilts above the 100-year flood plain, Tufaro said.
Tufaro and Nolley's only regret is that they couldn't name the project Clipper Mill, which was the building's name at one time in its life.
"That (name) was taken," Tufaro said, referring to another developer's well-known, mixed-use complex on Union Avenue.
"We can't be Clipper Mill No. 2," said Nolley, Terra Nova's development manager, as she and her father led a tour of the property Jan. 14.
Terra Nova is doing the project as a planned unit development, which Tufaro said the Baltimore City Council has approved. The company is also seeking historic tax credits and will redevelop the building under historic preservation guidelines, in conjunction with the Maryland Historical Trust and National Park Service, including keeping its exposed brick, Nolley said.
"We're keeping as much of the historic character as possible," she said.
Restoration plans include replacing an estimated 500 windows, Nolley said. Her father said there would also be "quite a bit" of lead abatement as part of the project.
Tufaro said a missing cupola on the building would be reconstructed from old photos as part of plans to make the faded, low-lying building more visually appealing from the road.
"There'll be things that dress it up dramatically," he said.
Current plans call for Adajian & Nelson, a longtime furniture restoration business in a small, separate building on the property, to stay there, Tufaro said.
The property has had a varied life, first as a mill that burned to the ground and later as a maker of Purity Paper Vessels, cone-shaped cups that could hold everything from ice cream to oysters, Nolley said. It was also a former manufacturing site for hairbrushes and toothbrushes, she said.
"It's gone through so many different uses," Nolley said.
Now, as Tufaro and Nolley plot the future of the site, its biggest draw will likely be as a public market modeled on Belvedere Square, whose tenants include the Grand Cru wine bar, Ceriello Fine Foods, an Italian-style deli, and Atwater's, which specializes in soups and sandwiches. Thornhill Baltimore, the property management company for the Whitehall property, managed Belvedere Square in that market's early days, Tufaro said.
Tufaro, a former partner in Summit Properties, a developer of apartment complexes in the mid-Atlantic region, and a former lawyer for the firm of Piper & Marbury, now DLA Piper, founded Terra Nova Ventures in 1999. The company has previously built Montgomery Park, the old Montgomery Ward department store building in Baltimore, as well as Ashton Meadows, a housing development in Columbia in Howard County.
Terra Nova is already well-known in North Baltimore for the $44 million Mill No. 1 project, a similar but somewhat larger adaptive reuse of the 19th-century cotton mill buildings as a 250,000-square-foot, mixed-use development project of apartments, offices and restaurants, at 3000 Falls Road, straddling the Jones Falls stream. It, too, was built partly with historic tax credits and was completed last year.
"It's doing well," and is about 90 percent occupied, with tenants including Evergreen Health and the design firm Fastspot among its tenants, Tufaro said. However, he said, "Our (planned) restaurant has been delayed and delayed and delayed."
Whitehall, located in a desolate stretch of Clipper Mill Road best known for the pizza restaurant Birroteca, continues the gentrification of the Jones Falls Valley with upscale housing and boutiques stores, a process that Tufaro said began with the 1987 redevelopment of the Mill Centre, 3000 Chestnut Ave., as an artists' haven, and has continued with makeovers for the old Stieff Silver building in Wyman Park and Tufaro's own Mill No. 1.
He said there's potential for more redevelopment of old buildings in the area, although new construction in the flood plain is prohibited.
Tufaro, 67, said he has no plans to buy and redevelop any other buildings locally, but that he is proud to be playing a part in transforming the area.
"I live in the community," he said. "What makes these projects so satisfying is that they're in my backyard. I'm very happy and proud to be part of the transformation."