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Maryland Jockey Club plots $30M overhaul of Pimlico and Laurel

The Maryland Jockey Club has submitted a preliminary 10-year plan to give Baltimore's aging Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park a major facelift, including new stalls for horses and housing for the grooms who take care of them. Money from Maryland's slots revenue would partially fund the construction, which would cost $30 million to start. 

The plan needs approval from the Maryland Racing Commission and its Director Michael Hopkins could not say when it would give its OK. Hopkins says he expects that a capital improvement plan for the facilities will be approved.

Part of the funding for the proposed project would come from the Racetrack Facility Redevelopment Account, a portion of Maryland’s slots revenue the thoroughbred horse racing facilities receive by law. The Maryland Jockey Club, which owns the two facilities, will receive $8 million per year from slots starting in 2014. The Maryland Jockey Club is responsible for the rest of the funding.

Signed by Maryland Jockey Club President Thomas Chuckas Jr. the plan at Pimlico calls for a “major overhaul” to the facility, particularly in the "backstretch" area where the horses and grooms are located. Concept work for Phase 1 is underway and permit drawings will be done this year. Phase 1 would cost $15.5 million and include construction of a 130-unit grooms’ quarter building and six barns housing 216 stalls for horses. 

Phase 2 would include construction of two, 260-unit grooms’ quarter buildings, a canteen building for the backstretch staff and 12 barns housing 432 stalls. Phase 3 would focus on improvements to the "patron" area of clubhouse and grandstand buildings and parking lot. The Maryland Jockey Club is evaluating costs for these two phases. Concept plans for them will be ready in 2014. 
At Laurel, Phase 1 would include construction of at least 150 stalls; Phase 2, an additional 150 stalls. There would also be infrastructure improvements like storm water, sewage and roads. Phase 3 proposals include a new clubhouse and a mixed-use development and hotel building.  
Hopkins calls the preliminary plan “open-ended.” He says it does not contain a specific timeframe for design and construction "although they probably want the stalls sooner than later.”
“This is a proposal, a snapshot of how they’d like to proceed with capital construction.”
The Maryland Jockey Club was required by law to submit a preliminary capital improvement plan for its thoroughbred racing facilities. The 2012 Maryland General Assembly required that such a plan be submitted in accordance with the Racing Facility Redevelopment Fund criteria.
The Pimlico capital improvement plan needs to be submitted to Baltimore City. In 2004, the city approved a plan unit development the Maryland Jockey Club submitted. That plan details road improvements, construction of parking garages and construction of housing and other amenities for Pimlico staffers. 

Depending on how different Maryland Jockey Club's capital improvement plan is from the city plan, it would go to either the city planning commission or the City Council for approval, says Sara Paranilam, a senior capital planning analyst in the Baltimore City Department of Planning.
So far, though, no Pimlico capital improvement plan has been submitted to the city, Paranilam says.
Sources: Michael Hopkins, Maryland Racing Commission; Sara Paranilam, Baltimore City planning department
Writer: Barbara Pash; [email protected]

Senator Theatre could reopen in May

The owners of the Senator Theatre will wrap up its $3 million restoration this spring and expect the historic North Baltimore landmark to open at the end of May after a year of closure.
The once aging, single-screen theater will open with four screens and a 50- to 75-seat wine bar, says Co-owner Kathleen Cusack.
The yearlong renovation includes restoring the murals, installing new seats and getting a new chandelier for the 74-year-old Art Deco-style theater. Kathleen and her father James “Buzz” Cusack spent $1 million on the repairs, while the remaining money for the restoration came from a bank loan and city and state money.
“We’ve been working on this project since 2009 and it’s been a very labor intensive process. We’re happy to see things finally moving along,” Cusack says.
The theater will show mostly big Hollywood productions when it opens and house a total of 1,080 seats. The main auditorium will hold 770 while the other three will contain 150, 85 and 75 seats.
Baltmore City bought the theater three years ago for $810,000 after it went into foreclosure. It sold it to the Cusacks in September at a $310,000 loss.
The Cusacks operate the Station North Arts & Entertainment District’s Charles Theater, which shows mostly independent movies. 

Writer: Julekha Dash
Source: Kathleen Cusack

Marketplace at Fells Point signs lease with neighborhood Main Street group

The developer of the Marketplace at Fells Point says that that the first phase of the $40 million apartment and shopping complex will be ready by the first quarter of 2014. It has also signed on Fells Point Main Street as a tenant.

Roughly half the retail and 59 apartments located east of Broadway will be completed at that time, says Dolben Co. Senior Vice President Drew Dolben. The completion of the remaining 100 apartments and 13,000 square feet of retail is still several years out, Dolben says.

Early 2014 is also when Dolben Co. will debut the renovated former Fells Point Comfort Station at 1630 Aliceanna St., which Dolben bought from the city in late 2011 for $275,000.

The former comfort station will house the new office of Fells Point Main Street, which signed a 10-year lease with Dolben. The nonprofit, which promotes the neighborhood’s historic district, will move from its current location at be located on the second floor. The first floor will house a fitness center for the apartment residents.

Dolben says it is wrapping up the foundation work along the 600 block of Broadway and building a new structure behind of the facades.

The idea is to construct a modern building while retaining the historical details. Dolben says he is now wrapping up the foundation work.

“When you walk down Broadway, you’ll think it’s been there for 100 years,” Dolben says.

Based in Massachusetts, Dolben has a regional office in Anne Arundel County’s Odenton. Dolben acquired the rights to develop the apartment and retail portion of the Marketplace at Fells in December 2011 from South Broadway Properties LLC’s Dave Holmes. South Broadway is still leading the $5 million renovation of the Broadway Market. 

Writer: Julekha Dash
Source: Drew Dolben, Dolben Co. 

Towson University doubling size of math and science building

Towson University is doubling the size of the building that houses its math and science school.

Construction on the 106,000-square-foot, $156 million expansion of Smith Hall won’t begin for at least another two years, says Scott Guckert, Towson’s director of construction services.

Smith is actually two connected buildings, built in 1964 and 1976 respectively, both of which are out of date, Guckert says.

Since the late 1990’s, all Towson students have been required to take at least two science courses to graduate, all of which are offered in Smith Hall. This has put a lot of pressure on the facility. At the same time, enrollment is now more than 20,000, compared to about 15,500 when Smith Hall was originally designed.

“We’re looking at a more green facility, something that will be LEED certified,” says Guckert, who says the building will feature improved technology, clean rooms, and breakout collaborative spaces.

Work is scheduled to start this September on a new pedestrian bridge, connecting Towson’s east side, which houses academic buildings, with its west village campus.

The bridge will rise above an existing intersection at Osler Drive and Towsontown Boulevard. The $15 million undertaking also includes a relocated traffic signal, improved wheelchair access and an additional athletic field.

The bridge is expected to be completed by summer, 2014.

Writer: Amy Landsman
Source: Scott Guckert, Towson University director of construction services

Northeast Market begins $2M facelift

The Northeast Market in East Baltimore began it first significant renovation in decades, a $2 million facelift that will take about  six months to complete.

The 36,000-square-foot market near Johns Hopkins Hospital will get new doors, facade, entrance, more seating and better lighting. A candy and flower stall in the front of the market that will hopefully create a more upscale look that is more inviting for visitors, says Casper Genco, executive director of the Baltimore Public Markets Corp. Genco says he'll relocate five tenants in order to make room for additional seating and new tenants.

The nonprofit oversees Baltimore’s public markets while the city owns the property. The Baltimore Public Markets Corp. is putting $750,000 toward the renovation. Another $300,000 is coming from Johns Hopkins University and Health System. It's also getting grant money from the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition Inc.
Modernizing the facility will hopefully appeal to Johns Hopkins Hospital staff and visitors. Genco says he will also look for opportunities to expand the market’s healthful food offerings and hopes that new menu boards will help visitors locate vendors who sell healthier fare.
The Avenue Market on Pennsylvania Avenue reopened in the fall with about $500,000 worth of renovations and seven new stalls. The Baltimore Public Markets Corp. also oversees Cross Street Market in Federal Hill and Broadway Market in Fells Point. 

“Each of these public markets is a focal point of the community,” Genco says.

Check out BmoreMedia's 2011 feature on Northeast Market and the companion audio piece

Writer: Julekha Dash
Source: Casper Genco, Baltimore Public Markets Corp. 

David's Restaurant reopening in Hampden

After being closed for nearly three years, renovation is underway at a revamped David’s Restaurant and Deli in Hampden.

Restaurant owner David D. Morgan has submitted an application to the Baltimore City liquor board for permission to house a full bar and hold live music.

In October, the Hampden Village Merchants Association gave Morgan a conditional letter of support. The conditions being that the restaurant open within three months, and the ownership doesn’t immediately transfer to somebody else.

Community leaders say they are looking forward to seeing the vacant property at 3626A Falls Road put to use.

“This has been sitting vacant for several years,” says Benn Ray, president of the Hampden Village Merchants Association. Ray is also owner of Atomic Books, located next to David’s Restaurant. The block could use a viable restaurant, he says.

“Having that amount of real estate right next door being inoperable is not at all helpful.”

Ray says the space is essentially two properties: the former David’s and an old toy train store. He says construction is underway and it appears it’s to be shaping up as a sports bar and restaurant.

Morgan could not be reached for comment and Hampden community leaders say they do not know what kind of food the restaurant will serve. The old David’s Restaurant featured breakfast, burgers, and sandwiches.

The Hampden Community Council also voted support of the new restaurant’s new liquor license application.

The Baltimore City liquor board will hear Morgan’s request on or after Jan. 31. 

Writer: Amy Landsman
Sources: Benn Ray, President Hampden Village Merchants Association; George Peters, Chairman Hampden Zoning Committee

Developer plotting four-story Mount Vernon apartment building

Developer Patrick Grace is building an apartment complex with 11 units in a former condominium and office building in Mount Vernon.
Construction on the $1.5 million market-rate apartments at 505 Park Ave. will begin in the spring and wrap up in the fall, says AB Associates’ Nate Pretl, a land use consultant working in conjunction with Grace’s Trademark Properties. The developer handles commercial and multi-family properties in the mid-Atlantic. Baltimore’s Harbor Development LLC is the project's general contractor.
The building is just down the street from one of the biggest apartment projects currently under development. The Time Group of Owings Mills is building 171 market-rate apartments at 520 Park Ave., to be completed spring 2014. The neighborhood is attracting more interest from retailers and developers with the expansions of the University of Baltimore and the Maryland Institute College of Art.
Apartments at 505 Park will rent for between $900 and $2,000 a month for one, two and three-bedroom units. The apartments will be between 550 to 1,150 square feet, Pretl says.
The east side of the property contains a four-story carriage house, which the developer will renovate and subdivide as a separate unit, Pretl says. The carriage house will at some point go on sale as a single-family residence. 
The apartments will be marketed to graduate students and young professionals who want to be close to neighboring universities, the central business district and the cultural attractions in Mount Vernon, Pretl says. 

Writer: Julekha Dash
Source: Nate Pretl, AB Associates

Developer Plots $25M Apartment and Retail Complex in South Baltimore

Construction will begin this summer on a $25 million building with market-rate apartments, a 247-car garage and retail.

Developer Chesapeake Realty Partners expects the project to be completed in the spring of 2014. The Owings Mills company also spearheaded the apartment complex across the street at 1901 Patapsco St.

Plans for the as-yet unnamed project at 2 East Wells St. call for 153 apartments, including 96 efficiencies and 57 one-and-two bedroom units. Renters can expect to pay, on average, about $1,800 per month. 

Currently, there are warehouses and offices on the lot, which also includes 1800 and 1802 Patapsco Streets. Mayers says he believes this is an opportunity to “create a new version of an existing neighborhood,” with good walkability and easy highway access.

The project also calls for 6,000 square feet of retail, says Chesapeake Realty President Jonathan Mayers. Facing East Wells Street, future retail tenants will serve the local community, and could include a bagel and coffee shop, nail salon, or a small local grocery, Mayers says.

“There’s really few commercial or industrial buildings left, and everything else in the neighborhood is more or less rowhomes or new apartment buildings,” Mayer says.

Demand for apartments remains strong throughout the city as many apartment complexes report nearly 100 percent occupancy rates. 

“We feel there’s a dearth of housing options in the south Baltimore market,” says Josh Fidler, Chesapeake’s chief operating officer. He says the area holds a number of assets, including Riverside Park, the headquarters for the National Federation of the Blind and the former Pabst brewery that is set to reopen this summer.

Mayers says the garage will be large enough to offer secure parking for tenants and visitors, with additional spaces available for lease. Plans also call for widening the alleys around the new building, making parking and access easier for the existing rowhomes on South Charles, Barney and Patapsco Streets.
Jonathan Mayers and Josh Fidler; Chesapeake Realty Partners
Writer: Amy Landsman

Brazilian Dance Studio Coming to Charles Street

Baltimore residents looking who want to get fit will soon get to incorporate South American-style martial arts into their workout routine.
The Baltimore Chapter of the International Capoeira Angola Foundation will move into a 1,000 square-foot headquarters at 1 North Charles St. by January. Capoeira is an African and Brazilian form of martial arts that incorporates dance, music and song. 
ICAF-Baltimore's leader Skher Brown has been planning the move for close to two years after becoming a recipient of a Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc.'s Operation Storefront grant. Operation Storefront grants were designed to stimulate business and activity in downtown’s abandoned buildings and were awarded to 10 applicants, including EMP Collective, D Center and Jody Davis Designs. Recipients got, on average, $10,000 each.
ICAF-Baltimore was established in 2004 and previously held classes at the Harlem Park Recreation Center and the Sankofa Dance Theater. Recently, Brown has offered classes at Goucher College. Brown says looks forward to having a downtown location and believes it will bring something new to the area.
“Capoeira is a great opportunity for physical assertiveness, it’s a form of self expressions,” Brown says. “Everybody can go the gym and knows about Pilates and yoga, but people will want to try something different.”
Participants range in age from children to seniors, while the average class size is 12. Classes are $15 but there will eventually be group rates, Brown says. Brown plans on possibly hiring as many as four instructors for the new space. He may also rent out the studio to other types of fitness teachers.  

Writer: Jolene Carr
Source: Skher Brown, Baltimore Chapter of the International Capoeira Angola Foundation 

Mt. Washington Tavern Getting More Than $4M on Renovations

It's been almost a year since Mt. Washington Tavern was gutted by a two-alarm fire, but the iconic neighborhood watering hole will reopen to the public Nov. 7 after more than $4 million have been spent on the renovations.

Destroyed last Halloween, the popular "Cheers" type bar anchored the North Baltimore neighborhood of Mt. Washington. After the fire, Owner Rob Frisch vowed to local news outlets that the bar would return. And it has, with a few design and layout changes. 
Owner Rob Frisch hired SMG Architects to do all of the design of the 10,000 square-foot building for their expertise in the renovation of historic properties. The new tavern will feature three different and unique bar spaces, Frisch says.
The front bar is now one level, which creates a wide, open space. It will have exposed stone and hickory flooring. The area previously called the "Garden Room" will become the "Chesapeake Room," with a waterfowl theme. A fireplace has also been added to the room.
The upstairs Sky Bar used to be a seasonal bar, but it has been converted to an enclosed, year-round bar with collapsible doors and a large, wooden deck. A new kitchen will allow the tavern to add variation to its menu.
Frisch expects to hire an additional 12 to 15 people to add to the tavern’s staff of approximately 70 people. Construction and renovation started on the tavern in January after the building was demolished.
The tavern will host a grand opening party on Nov. 21 at 8 p.m. to kick-off the holiday season.
Source: Rob Frisch, owner, Mt. Washington Tavern
Writer: Alexandra Wilding, [email protected]

Towson University Purchases York Road Property

Towson University has spent $6.2 million to purchase a property on York Road and plans to spend another $4 million to refurbish the structure.
The university bought the 40,000-square-foot building to house several programs that fall within its Division of Economic and Community Outreach. That includes the TowsonGlobal Business Incubator, which will occupy one whole floor [see story].
The university has been a tenant for several years and decided to go ahead and purchase the building as it would save money in the long run compared with renting, says Mark Behm, Towson’s interim vice president of administration and finance and chief fiscal officer. Towson bought the building from Garrison Forest Foods Inc., state property records show. 
The building currently houses Towson’s continuing education programs and the Regional Economic Studies Institute. These tenants will move out temporarily in November while the building undergoes a 13-month renovation, Behm says. The renovations will include upgrades to the electrical system and adding an elevator to make it handicap accessible. 

Source: Mark Behm
Writer: Julekha Dash

Renovated 13th Floor Opening This Month

After a season of closure for renovations, the Belvedere's the 13th Floor will open Oct. 4 with a new design and concept.
Known for its dramatic views of Baltimore, the restaurant and lounge located in the Mount Vernon neighborhood has been closed since April.
The restaurant's parent company Belvedere Restaurant Group focused on creating a new look and approach for the space by hiring local PR firm Vitamin to rebrand the spot, Owner Sondra Goad says. The restaurant group is spending $500,000 on the renovations. 
Interior designer Joley King hoped to design a space that combines a modern aesthetic with reminders of the building's historic past including some of the original steel columns. The building will also feature custom designed stained glass as well as artisan steel furniture in a tribute to Baltimore's steel history, Goad says. 
"The 13th Floor will be a place to unwind, to talk, and to connect, while being above the daily grind in one of Baltimore's most historic landmarks," Goad says.
Goad says the bar and restaurant will cater to an upscale crowd as well as expanding the uses of the space to focus on private, catered events and wedding parties.
A Beaux Arts style building, the Belvedere is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. The former hotel was the premier lodging in Baltimore in the first half of the 20th century with guests such as John F. Kennedy, Woodrow Wilson, and Clark Gable. In 1991, the building converted to condos with restaurants and bars remaining open to the public.
Other businesses inside the building, now a condo complex, include the Owl Bar and Truffles Catering.
Source: Sondra Goad, owner of Belvedere Restaurant Group.
Writer: Alexandra Wilding, [email protected]

High-End Apartment Developers Invest in Mount Vernon

Seeking to fill a demand for housing in Baltimore, apartment developers hope to offer luxury apartments to professionals who want to live in Mount Vernon or downtown. 
Working on behalf of a group of private investors, high-end residential developer  Zahlco Properties plans to renovate up to six apartment buildings with 100 total units in Mount Vernon and downtown by next summer, says Yonah Zahler, CEO of Pikesville's Zahlco Properties. 
The company hopes to create a new venture, Urban Living by Zahlco, to cater to young professionals who work and want to live downtown. 
The first building, a 10,000-square-foot double row house at 16 E. Biddle St. in Mount Vernon, is slated to open for lease in October. The funding group behind the venture has invested $1.3 million to renovate the home and has several million set aside to develop additional properties, Zahler says. He wouldn't specify where the other buildings are located and exactly how much he will spend on them. 

Zahler believes there is a demand for high-end housing in Mount Vernon and that the area has always attracted residents.
"Mount Vernon has a unique style of living. It has a Manhattan type of feel that will only grow by the population and workers increasing. Retail will follow," Zahler says.

Maybe it's not New York, but apartment rental rates in Baltimore are keeping up with bigger cities. Baltimore renters paid an average of $1,684 last month, a 12 percent increase compared with July 2011, according to housing market research firm Zillow Inc. 

Zahler's apartments will be one to two bedrooms costing no more than $1,400 and $2,000 a month, respectively.

Writer: Alexandra Wilding, [email protected]
Source: Yonah Zahler, CEO of Zahlco Properties.

Developer Plots For-Profit Recreation Center In West Baltimore

A former furniture warehouse in West Baltimore's Franklin Square neighborhood could be transformed into a community building and recreation center.
Pending approval from the city's zoning board, a two-story, 33,000 square-foot vacant building at 5 N. Calhoun St. could become a for-profit recreation center, says property owner and developer Cecil Clarke.
The plan comes amid the permanent closures this month of four city-operated recreation centers in West Baltimore due to budget cuts.
Clarke says he believes the area around the proposed recreation center is poised for tremendous growth and revitalization after years of delayed progress on projects like the Red Line and “Superblock."

The warehouse location at North Calhoun and West Baltimore Streets is less than a mile from the University of Maryland Medical Center. Nearby on Baltimore Street, 17 new businesses including a coffee shop have opened in the past two years, Clarke says.
The amount and diversity of development projects makes Clarke feel optimistic about the city's future.
Despite Clarke's optimism, the "Superblock" project has faced hurdles over the past decade and Maryland's highest court has only recently dismissed a lawsuit trying to block the proposed $152 million apartment and retail project near Lexington and Howard Streets. 
Clarke revealed few details about the project and the prospective tenant could not be reached for comment. The project will go before the city's zoning and appeals board Sept. 18.
Writer: Alexandra Wilding, [email protected]
Source: Cecil Clarke, property developer

Senator Theatre Could Reopen in the Spring

Construction on the historic Senator Theatre could begin the end of this month or early September now that it has the city's go ahead, says Kathleen Cusack, a co-leasee of the property with her father, Buzz Cusack.

The new Senator with its four movie screens and wine bar could open March 2013, depending on the construction schedule. The city's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation OK'd the Cusacks' plan earlier this month. The entire project is costing $3 million, of which the Cusacks are investing $1 million, and the remainder is from a commercial bank loan and city and state funding.

The Cusacks are now in the process of restoring the main lobby. The original wood paneling and mural are under restoration and professional artists have been hired to do the work, she says. Cusack says the restored theater and its additions will open together, and not in phases. 

The Senator Theatre occupies about 65 percent of its lot, leaving a small area for parking in the rear. Cusack says they are expanding the theater by “filling in the corners” of the lot with the construction of the three new theaters and the wine bar.

The main theater “needs a lot of work,” Cusack says. It formerly seated between 800 to 900 people, but the original seats are being replaced with seats that are larger and more comfortable and she expects its seating capacity to be 770 when the work is done.

Cusack leases The Charles Theater, 1711 North Charles St., in the Station North Arts and Entertainment District. But Cusack says that plans for the Senator are quite different from the Charles.
“The Charles is an art house,” says Cusack, and plays films that are often not shown in other venues in Baltimore.  “The Senator has never been an art house. It has always played big Hollywood products. And, we don’t want to compete with the Charles.”
After a competitive process in which four proposals were submitted, Baltimore City last year awarded the Cusacks a 40-year lease on the property. The city bought the theater three years ago after it went into foreclosure. 
One of the new auditoriums will have a seating capacity of 150; the other two auditoriums will seat between 60 to 80 people each. “It will be like any movie theater with multiple screens. The auditoriums will play national movies,” like the Senator itself, she says.
The wine bar will serve light fare and feature outdoor tables along York Road.
“Our vision is to restore the Senator as a beautiful Art Deco movie palace,” says Cusack.
Source: Kathleen Cusack, The Senator Theatre
Writer: Barbara Pash
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