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Dan Rodricks

Dan Rodricks: In Hampden, Sandtown and Sparrows Point — taking it on and getting it done | COMMENTARY

Eight rowhouses on Roland Avenue in Baltimore were gutted after a fire, but their facades were preserved. The three-story houses  have been rebuilt and are close to completion.

The big sticks are gone. Two years ago this month, they caught my attention as I traveled north along Roland Avenue toward 40th Street on the edge of Hampden: Long wooden braces at buttressing angles to support the Formstone and brick facades of eight row houses badly damaged by fire in 2018.

A banner on the first house in the row promised “extreme makeover coming soon.”

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The houses had been vacant since the fire. The pandemic had arrived, causing deaths and shutting down life as we knew it; uncertainty rained upon us. And yet, two guys decided to buy the properties and rebuild them while saving the facades — not an easy thing to do, not even a necessary thing to do.

At the time I regarded the tableau as a metaphor for our aching city: Things are bad right now — the pandemic, the incessant gun violence — but hold on and hold up, we’ll get through this. The big sticks expressed a belief in Baltimore’s future and respect for its past. To me, they said: Things have been rough, but we must keep everything from falling down and falling apart.

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Attention must be paid, now and then, to people who take on projects and get things done. Baltimore’s denigrators see nothing but awful here and ignore the good. So I get charged when I see big sticks holding up buildings and people investing in the old neighborhoods — Broadway East, Harlem Park, and I’ll tell you about a project in Sandtown in a minute.

So last week, as I drove by the Group of Eight on Roland Avenue, I noticed the big sticks were gone. The bracing lumber had disappeared. The houses seemed to be nearly finished.

Josh Mente’s Blue Point Properties took five houses while another investor, Tim Walsh, took three. They worked independently but had similar struggles, paying a pandemic premium for lumber, for one thing. Mente had to wait six months for some city permits. He discovered that the previous homes had no brick party walls and had been built on nothing but dirt. Walsh had to order three 24-foot, 8-by-8 treated wood posts for BGE power line connections above decks on the rear of each house.

But they both made progress, constructing spacious, three-story row houses with basements while preserving the facades. Mente plans to sell his houses, Walsh will likely rent his. We might see human inhabitants before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, in West Baltimore …

Readers might recall the great and unexpected gift bestowed upon Ames United Methodist Church and the Resurrection Sandtown project by Northeastern Supply — a former bakery building that Northeastern and a previous plumbing supply company had used as a distribution center. A warehouse behind it was included in the donation, giving Resurrection Sandtown a 65,000-square-foot rectangle of land and buildings at Pennsylvania Avenue and Baker Street. Resurrection Sandtown never expected to receive a gift of that scale. It was just about shocking.

So there’s plenty of space now for the Rev. Rodney Hudson to redevelop this long-neglected area and pursue his dreams — a community center, a place that might provide day care and after-school activities, offices and maybe space for retailers, maybe a supermarket, maybe a job training center.

But first things first.

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Van Beall, a member of Glen Mar United Methodist in Ellicott City and a trustee of Hudson’s church, reports that the work of clearing out the large buildings has commenced. The previous owners left a lot of stuff behind, and neither Beall nor Hudson are keen about sending it all to landfill or incinerator.

“At the moment we are trying to sell what we can, but Second Chance or Sandtown ReStore on Fulton Avenue may end up with items, too,” reports Beall. “We delivered over 21,000 pounds of paper to be recycled. It was mostly leftover receipts, bills and computer paper from Sigler’s Supply, which preceded Northeastern Supply at that location, plus the same type of records from Northeastern.

“A month ago, we recycled over 12,600 pounds of metal at Sims Metal, just off Wilkens Avenue, and have another massive pile of probably 15,000 pounds of metal — mostly file cabinets and shelving, but also motors from the bread-making machinery and other parts of the flour-sorting equipment. That will go out in a 40-foot container next week.

“We are also hopefully selling all the bathtubs that were left behind plus the pallet racks and miscellaneous pipes — quite a hodgepodge of stuff.”

Beall and Hudson hope to receive a final feasibility study in the next week, then have in place a partnership with a developer by spring.

Meanwhile, in Baltimore County …

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Keith Taylor, the force behind the Sparrows Point/North Point Historical Society, is optimistic that construction will soon begin on the Beacon of Hope project at Sparrows Point High. Taylor, proud of the area’s steelmaking heritage, has been working on this for a few years. It’s envisioned as a way to remember what Bethlehem Steel meant to the Point, to Baltimore and to the world while improving the grounds and facilities at the high school. The project includes a learning center for environmental studies and a walkway lined with nine solar-powered lamp posts that once stood at the massive mill, now gone for the ages, the land transformed into Tradepoint Atlantic.

Props to all who take it on and get it done.


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