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Veterans Group Leads Cleanup of Oliver Neighborhood

In cooperation with One Green Home at a Time, a home rehabilitation company building energy-efficient homes in East Baltimore, the Pat Tillman Foundation brought over 90 military veterans to the Oliver neighborhood for a clean-up day on July 11. Pulling weeds, clearing debris, and straightening fences, "We pretty much covered the majority of the Oliver community," says Earl Johnson, Executive Director of One Green Home at a Time and himself an Army veteran.

An estimated 200 more volunteers from local non-profit organizations The 6th Branch, Baltimore BORN, One Green Home, Baltimore Love Project, and the Veteran Artist Program joined nearly 100 Tillman Military Scholars in their day of service coordinated with the Pat Tillman Legacy Summit, which is named for the former college and professional football star who was killed by friendly fire while serving as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan.

One Green Home at a Time and its financial arm, Bridge Private Lending, purchased 40 homes in the Oliver neighborhood from the city in May and is currently coordinating funds for complete renovation. The 3-window-wide rowhomes are eligible for historic tax credits and will be standardized to share energy-efficient floor plans and other design features.

Writer: Sam Hopkins
Source: Earl Johnson, One Green Home at a Time

Apartment Complex Pitched for One Light St.

A Baltimore developer is pitching an apartment complex at a prime Inner Harbor spot that had previously been eyed for condos, a hotel, and offices.

J. Joseph Clarke, of J.J. Clarke Enterprises , is plotting a nearly 264-unit apartment tower for 1 Light St. A Baltimore City design panel is reviewing Clarke's plans for the 15-story unit, which would contain a three-level parking garage with 200 spaces and two retail spots totaling 12,000 square feet.

Clarke told the panel that the market demand is no longer there for an office tower, though he hasn't ruled out a hotel for the spot. The apartment market is one of the bright spots in the commercial real estate market. Apartment rents are rising while vacancies are declining in nearly every city tracked by research firm Reis Inc.

"There's a push to have more mixed use downtown," says Robert Quilter, an architect with the city's planning department.

Kona Grill, Sullivan's Steakhouse, and several hotels have livened nighttime activity in downtown in recent years. But filling the spot at 1 Light St. with full-time residents would add to the neighborhood's vibrancy, Quilter says.

"It's like a hole in the donut," he says of the property, which is a parking lot now. "It could contribute to downtown better than it is."

Writer: Julekha Dash
Source: Robert Quilter, Baltimore City

Live Baltimore to Kick Off New Ad Campaign

Remember Nike's message to folks who put off getting in shape?

Live Baltimore, a nonprofit that promotes home buying in Baltimore City, doesn't want home buyers to procrastinate, either, in its newest ad campaign, which starts later this month.

The message is "buy now," Live Baltimore Executive Director Anna Custer says.

With interest rates low, a depressed housing market, and cash incentives for buying in the city, purchasing a Baltimore home has never been more affordable, she says.

"We want to give people a reason to get off their hind legs," Custer says. "Stop saying someday," I'll buy a house.

The $40,000 multimedia ad campaign will include ads in DC Metro stations, Google pay-per-click ads, Facebook, and other social media sites. You will also see a viral campaign involving "flash mobs," or the idea that random people gather at a public location to chant, cheer, dance, or perform some other predetermined act.

Live Baltimore's goal is to reach the creative class of young, hip professionals who will view home buying in Baltimore an investment in their future.

Still, getting people to buy a home in Baltimore is fraught with challenges given that perceptions of the city are mired in images of "the Wire," and the latest census data shows that the city lost residents over the last decade.

Custer says she hopes the campaign will challenge people's perceptions and stir up conversations on everything from neighborhoods to food in Baltimore.

One key component of the campaign includes taking iconic signs throughout the city and using them to form words. So, for instance, the "O" from the Domino Sugar sign might be used to spell Baltimore. Folks who can guess where the shots were taken get a prize.

Writer: Julekha Dash
Source: Anna Custer, Live Baltimore

Bozzuto Breaks Ground on Green Townhomes

Downtown Towson is getting eco-friendly townhomes as the area undergoes revitalization.

Bozzuto Homes has broken ground on 121 townhomes between Towsontown Boulevard and East Burke Avenue. Homes at Towson Green will start in the low $300s and feature up to four bedrooms. A sales center will open next month.

The townhomes will be built to achieve a Silver level certification from the National Association of Home Builders. Green features will include sustainable design, construction, and finishes, along with Energy Star appliances. The homes will be certified by Energy Star, a government sponsored program that helps residents and businesses become more energy efficient.

The community will include a rain garden with aquatic plants that will treat storm water runoff.

Bozzuto is working with the Chesapeake Fund, a nonprofit organization that works to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous flowing into local streams and waterways by evaluating the development's output. The real estate firm is also offering eco-friendly landscape maintenance advice to homeowners.

Towson Green lies within Baltimore County's Towson commercial revitalization district, and as a result, qualifies for a property tax credit. Under this program, homeowners will benefit from a reduction in their real estate tax bills for a period of five to ten years.

Towson Green is one of several new residential developments to open in the Baltimore County town. The Palisades of Towson, an 18-story LEED certified apartment tower, opened in the fall. Owned by Southern Management Corp., the Palisades includes a green roof, bamboo floors, and bicycle racks.

In recent years, downtown Towson has experienced an influx of new and redevelopment projects including:

- The $27 million Towson Center City project, site of the former Investment Building which is under interior demolition, and when completed in early 2012 will bring up to 500 new workers to the area;
- Redevelopment of two large vacated retail properties into the newly opened full-service Safeway at York and Fairmont Roads; and,
- The 110,000 square foot expansion of Towson Town Center, which includes a specialty retail wing with Tiffany's and Burberry.

Writer:Julekha Dash
Source: Bozzuto Group

Gourmet Deli, Wine Bar Selected for Silo Point

Construction on a gourmet grocery shop and a wine bar will soon begin at Patrick Turner's Silo Point condominium tower.

Hospitality consultant Peter Yaffe is cooking up plans for a store where Silo Point residents can pick up a sandwich, coffee, prepared foods and a bottle of wine.

Construction on the 2,200-square-foot business, called FoodLifePoint, should begin in the next month or so. Yaffe describes the style of the design-heavy store as "cozy industrial chic," much like the condo tower itself. He has hired Silo Point's architect, Chris Pfaeffle of Baltimore's Parameter Inc., to design the store.  

FoodLifePoint's features will include wireless Internet access, HD TVs, and seating overlooking the harbor. The store will employ between 60 and 75. If all goes well, Yaffe plans to open more stores like it throughout the U.S., one of which could be built at Patrick Turner's Westport development in South Baltimore.

Yaffe's previous experience includes LFB Enterprises, where he was president of a Maryland hospitality group that included catering, a restaurant, a nightclub, and a gourmet-to-go food operation. He has also run high-volume seafood restaurants in Florida and was director of operations of Capital Restaurant Concepts, the Washington, D.C. restaurant group that includes Paolo's Ristorante and J. Paul's Dining Saloon.

Meanwhile, the folks behind the 13.5% wine bar in Hampden are opening a wine bar at Silo Point. No word yet on the name of the 2,600-square-foot store, expected to open in April at 1200 Steuart St.

Wayne Laing, of 13.5%, declined to comment on his latest wine bar.

"They're both great concepts for the neighborhood," Turner says of FoodLifePoint and the wine bar. "I'm not real big on chain restaurants. Restaurants of this caliber are very site specific and we want that uniqueness for Silo Point."

The condo tower also features Mexican restaurant Miguel's Cocina y Cantina and Priv� Salon and Spa.

Writer: Julekha Dash
Sources: Peter Yaffe, FoodLife Point; Patrick Turner, Turner Development Group LLC

Baltimore Smart Homes Launches Redesigned Website

Baltimore Smart Homes, a Baltimore-based residential and commercial contractor that specializes in energy audits for homes and businesses, has launched a totally redesigned website.

According to Baltimore Smart Homes, the new site does a better job of conveying the company's message as it seeks to make homes and businesses throughout Maryland more comfortable, healthy, and energy efficient. The website gives potential and existing clients an in-depth look into the divisions of Baltimore Smart Homes: Home and Commercial Building Services, Energy Audits, and Energy Services and Solar Services. While the gallery section of the website features case studies with infrared imaging and detailed job description. Coming soon is a gallery of finished work including custom home building and renovations.

Source: Baltimore Smart Homes
Writer: Walaika Haskins

$50K Grants Offered to Hopkins Hospital Area Home Buyers

Home buyers interested in getting a home in the area surrounding Johns Hopkins Hospital have 50,000 potential reasons to do so. That's because of a $50,000 grant being offered as part of the Eastside Early Home Buyers Grant Program (EEGP).

The grant may be applied toward the purchase of designated newly constructed or rehabilitated homes in the East Baltimore Development, Inc. (EBDI) footprint, the Townes at Eager, or the Green Rehab Homes.

Baltimore Community Lending is responsible for the program. According to the organization, the purpose of the EEGP grant is to generate a group of pioneering buyers to purchase homes in the new East Baltimore community by providing a financial incentive for prospective buyers of the designated new homes.

"This incentive is an awesome way to incent a Hopkins employee or someone who works closeby in the downtown area with a really affordable home purchase. We hope it serves to jumpstart home buying in the area and build on the positive work being done by EBDI. It is one of the more gracious incentives out there � no income restriction on the buyer and the funds are totally forgiven after 10 years," says Anna Custer, executive director of Live Baltimore, an organization dedicated to promoting Baltimore as a great place to live.

Source: Anna Custer
Writer: Walaika Haskins

Downtown Partnership Study Says Downtown is Vital to Baltimore Economy

More than one third of all downtown jobs are held by Baltimore City residents, and the number of employees who earned more than $40,000 per year increased 31 percent from 2004 to 2008.

That is according to a new report from Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc. that assesses downtown's impact on the Baltimore economy.
Officials from the group hope the report's findings will result in city policies that favor downtown.

Downtown Partnership wants city officials to create a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district for downtown, similar to those in Patrick Turner's Westport development, Harbor East, and Clipper Mill. A TIF allows the city to use debt to finance a new development with the expectation that the project will increase tax revenues in the future.

Downtown hotels contribute 89 percent of the city's total hotel tax revenue and downtown residents pay 24 percent of the city's total income taxes, the study shows. Downtown businesses pay $7.6 billion in compensation to employees, while Baltimore City businesses overall pay $19.4 billion per year to their workers, the report says.

The motivation behind the study is to understand how downtown contributes to the city's overall fiscal standing and to remind policy leaders of the importance of investing downtown, says Downtown Partnership President J. Kirby Fowler Jr.

"Baltimore is a very dense area that provides bang for the buck," Fowler says.

Writer: Julekha Dash
Source: Kirby Fowler, Downtown Partnership of Baltimore

Denver Firm Buys Brewers Hill Apartment Complex for $49M

A Denver real estate investment trust has snatched up a Brewers Hill apartment complex for $46 million as it beefs up its portfolio in the Baltimore and Washington markets.

UDR Inc. bought the 180-unit building, called Domain Brewers Hill, as more people choose to rent versus buy property in the wake of the housing bust. Barron's forecasts that the percentage of households who own their own home will drop to 64 percent in 2015, down from its peak of 69 percent in 2004.

UDR likes to buy property in areas where there is limited land on which to develop more apartment units and where residents have a high propensity to rent versus own a home, says Andrew Cantor, UDR's vice president of investor relations.

It also invests in areas where there is job growth. Though Maryland's unemployment rate rose to 7.4 percent in August, the state has added 33,200 jobs since January, according to the state's department of labor, licensing and regulation.

Cantor says fewer people are leaving its apartment homes � a sign that rental demand is heating up. In August, just over half of its residents left their apartment homes, versus 61 percent during the second quarter of 2009.

"That's a huge improvement for us," Cantor says. With fewer people leaving, the company can charge higher rents.

With the Brewers Hill purchase, UDR now has 2,300 apartment units in Baltimore. It owns 50,000 apartment homes nationwide.

Average rent for the one-and-two-bedroom apartments at Domain Brewers Hill is $1,975. The apartments include high ceilings, hardwood floors, granite countertops, and stainless steel kitchen appliances. UDR added free wireless Internet access to the property.

Domain Brewers Hill was built in 2009 by the Hanover Co. of Houston.

Writer: Julekha Dash
Source: Andrew Cantor, UDR

Performance Theatre Workshop moving to Hamilton

All the world's a stage for residents of Baltimore's Hamilton neighborhood. So, it may be no surprise that after 15 years in Federal Hill, Performance Theatre Workshop is moving to 5426 Harford Road in July.

Productions at the new space will begin Fall 2011, after theater staff have raised the $500,000 needed to purchase and refurbish the former Provident Bank building,  Marlyn Robinson, one of the company's artistic director says.

Leaders at the nonprofit will begin a capital campaign in the near future, raising money from individuals and foundations so they can move into the historic building, which dates to 1928. Baltimore architects Ziger/Snead LLC -- who have worked with MICA and Centerstage -- will design and restore the building.

The new space will give Performance Theatre 80 seats, versus 30 at its spot at 28 E. Ostend Street, near Cross Street Market. "We needed to serve more people," since at times, the theater was at capacity, Robinson says. The spot also offers ample parking and access for the disabled, something that was lacking in its Federal Hill space.

Robinson expects that the area's young families and throngs of artists will be interested in the theater's productions.
"It's an area that very much wants to develop and grow," Robinson says. "We think that is a welcoming and interested neighborhood."

Two neighborhood associations invited the theater troupe to move to the area, Marc Horwitz, also an artistic director for the company, says.

The Hamilton and nearby Lauraville neighborhoods have attracted a host of new restaurants and cafes in recent years, including Clementine, Hamilton Tavern and Red Canoe Bookstore Caf�.

Originally based in Pennsylvania, Performance Theatre Workshop has a strong educational mission and hosts workshops and post-theater discussions. Theater officials hope to help train Hamilton high school students. "I'd like the theater to grow into a magnet for the schools and receive training from professionals," Horwitz says.

The troupe's most recent production was the "Puppetmaster of Lodz," a play about a Holocaust survivor that the theater runs every seven years. Next season, it plans to hold its plays in various performance spots throughout the city until its new Hamilton space is ready.

Wanna know more? Read more about the area's Arts and Culture scene.

Sources: Marc Horwitz, Marlyn Robinson, Performance Theatre Workshop
Writer: Julekha Dash

Burritos latest item wrapped around Baltimore's food wagon trend

Coming to a curb near you: burritos to order. Lesa Bain and Shawn Smith bring their version of the Mexican classic to the hungry lunchtime crowd gratis of their 12-foot truck. The two have been cruisin' through Hampden and neighborhood festivals for the past two weeks.

In the next few months, Bain says she and her husband hope to make their burrito wagon, Curbside Caf�, a full-time venture. Just five bucks a piece, the burritos come filled with ingredients --some traditional and some not so traditional -- including pulled pork, black beans, tofu and veggies.Curbside even sells an Indian-style burrito stuffed with chana masala, or chickpeas with Indian spices.

"We have a variety of burritos. We're not trying to go for a Mexican theme," Bain says.

Why a food wagon? The couple wanted to launch a business and thought a food venture would be perfect since Smith is a good cook, Bain says.

They chose a food wagon instead of a more stationary location because they wanted to start small. Bain got the idea after seeing food delivery trucks in California, Philadelphia and New York. She estimates that the couple have spent about $10,000 to cover start-up costs.

"They're everywhere in other cities, but not too many in Baltimore," She continues. .

One of the biggest challenges to starting the business has been figuring out what will sell well and knowing just how much food they will need for an event. 

A number of food wagons have taking to trolling the streets of Charm City in recent months. Icedgems Baking roves throughout Baltimore County selling cupcakes and other sweet confections. Patrick Russell, owner of Koopers Tavern in Fells Point, started Kooper's Chowhound, a burger wagon, last year.

Bain and Smith will eventually take their truck beyond Hampden's border, but for now, the neighborhood suits them fine. The couple live in the area and know a lot of business owners there. "There's a lot going on in Hampden," Bain says.

There's more happening in Hampden. Read about it here.

Source: Lesa Bain, Curbside Cafe
Writer: Julekha Dash

Chicago-based Sierra brokerage firm will serve Mid-Atlantic region from new Baltimore office

A Chicago retail brokerage firm is expanding, opening a new office in downown Baltimore. The Sierra U.S. office will serve clients in the Mid-Atlantic, from Northern Virginia to Deleware, including Greater Baltimore and Washington, D.C., from its 2,000-square-foot office at 616 Water Street.

"There are pockets of Baltimore that are underserved," says Mark Mueller, a retail broker formerly with KLNB Retail pegged to head up Sierra's Baltimore office. Those pockets include Harbor East, South Baltimore, Howard County and Northern Baltimore County. The company's clients include Brazilian steakhouse Fogo de Chao, Advance Auto Parts, Bar Louie and CVS.

"There are so many tenants looking to come to Washington and Baltimore," he continues. "Sierra has a lot of tenants that want to expand."

While the office currently employs a staff of three, there are plans to hire as many as eight brokers. "We're looking for experienced brokers, wherever they are," Mueller says.

Things are picking up in the retail world as business owners start to take advantage of good rent deals. Retail rents, on average, are 25 percent cheaper than they were in 2007, according to Mueller.
Tenants that can serve a particular niche are looking to fill existing spaces. Restaurants that are expanding are mid-range, rather than high-end, are the ones looking to grow nowadays, Mueller says. "You won't see new shopping centers built from the ground up as financing is still difficult.". 

In addition to the Chicago office, Sierra also has an office in Boca Raton, Fla. The company may open another office in Northern Virginia down the road, Mueller says.

Source: Mark Mueller, Sierra U.S.
Writer: Julekha Dash

$300K grant to benefit Baltimore's first-time home buyers

Baltimore's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) First-Time Homebuyer's Program received $300,000 in renewed funding in February. The CDBG's gain is a windfall for 60 first-time homebuyers in Baltimore. With the additional $300,000 in funding, the income-eligible families will receive $5,000 in home buying assistance.

Baltimore Housing's Office of Homeownership established the first-time buyer program in August 2009. At the start of the program, $300,000 was available for down payment and settlement assistance to low-income families. Within two months, those funds were exhausted. 

"We're pleased to offer the Community Development Block Grant First-Time Homebuyer's Program to help make the dream of owning a home possible for income-eligible families in Baltimore," says Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. "We're equally excited to announce that affordable housing stock is still available for purchase in many of Baltimore's 220 neighborhoods."

Homebuyers can use the incentive funds in combination with an $8,000 First-Time Home Buyers Federal Tax Credit for a total of $13,000 in home buying support. In November 2009, the Worker, Homeownership, and Business Assistance Act of 2009 extended the tax credit for first time homebuyers purchasing a primary home between January 1, 2009 and April 30, 2010, with settlement by July 1, 2010. Additionally, active City employees may qualify for $3,000 in home buying incentive funds through the Baltimore City Employee Homeownership Program.

"This window of combined opportunities is time sensitive. First-time homebuyers are encouraged to take advantage of available City homeownership incentives while federal help is also being offered," says Baltimore Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano.

Housing counseling from a City- approved housing counseling agency is a requirement for this and all City homeownership programs. Approved housing counseling agencies and income eligibility criteria are listed on the Baltimore Housing website.

Source: Housing Authority of Baltimore City
Writer: Walaika Haskins

Anne Arundel County apartment complex nears completion

An apartment complex in Hanover is wrapping up construction on 270 units that will be added to the Elms at Stoney Run Village at the end of the month.

Marketers for the building are pitching the Elms' proximity to Arundel Mills mall and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Property Manager Cheryl Henley says. The complex at 7581 Stoney Run Dr. is about 75 percent full and will have a total of 386 apartments when construction is finished.

The Elms contains one, two and three-bedroom units. The price ranges from $1,340 for a one bedroom to $2,105 for a three bedroom. The sizes range from 830 to 1,650 square feet with amenities that include a swimming pool, fitness center and hiking trails.

Elm Street Development, the complex's McLean, Va., developer, picked the area because of the expected job growth in Anne Arundel County, Elm Street Project Manager Lauren Bower says.

"We chose the neighborhood because it is growing fast," Bower says. "A lot of people are moving to the area."

The Pentagon's Base Realignment and Closure plan, or BRAC, is expected to bring nearly 6,000 jobs to Fort George G. Meade in 2011.

Henley says the company likes Anne Arundel County's demographics. The county's population has grown nearly 5 percent between 2000 and 2008, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and it has a median household income of around $83,000.

Elm Street's other properties include the Eden, a 270-unit apartment building in Baltimore's Harbor East neighborhood.

Sources: Cheryl Henley, the Elms at Stoney Run Village; Lauren Bower, Elm Street Development
Writer: Julekha Dash
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