Four months after Baltimore Clayworks leaders announced plans to sell one or both of their buildings, the organization says it has found a buyer.
Leaders of the 37-year-old Mount Washington-based nonprofit arts group today announced they’ve executed a contract to sell both buildings, located at 5706 and 5707 Smith Avenue, to an unidentified “local nonprofit.”
The sale is meant to stabilize the storied ceramics arts group’s finances and move it “into a wider vision for a sustainable future,” according to the announcement. Board president Kathy Holt wrote in February that the organization had accrued $900,000 in debt over the last 13 years while financing roof, plumbing, electrical and other types of repairs for the 5707 Smith Avenue building, which the Saint Paul Companies donated to Clayworks in 1999.
That debt total was too much to pay off with the group’s current $100,000 endowment and regular fundraising pool, she said.
Clayworks has explored various options over the last several months, including selling one of its two buildings while retaining the other, filing for bankruptcy or even dissolving entirely.
When leaders decided they wanted to sell both buildings to pay off the group’s debt, hundreds of community members responded with outrage. More than 800 people signed a petition calling for the group not to sell its properties. They also established the Clayworks Community Campaign to voice their opposition collectively.
“Save Baltimore Clayworks” signs appeared around the North Baltimore neighborhood. In April, dozens of members rallied outside the group’s headquarters on Smith Avenue while the organization was holding an auction and fundraiser inside. In Annapolis, lawmakers called for a dialogue between the nonprofit’s leaders and the Clayworks Community Campaign, to be facilitated by Maryland Nonprofits Inc.
Leaders previously told Baltimore Fishbowl they had asked for $4.5 million for both buildings, plus a a 40-space parking lot it owns near the Mount Washington light rail stop.
Earlier this month, the group turned down an offer from local real estate professional Sid Emmer, of Sidney Emmer Builders, to buy the 5707 Smith Avenue building for $800,000 and lease it back to the group for $1 per year for the next two years.
Emmer said Clayworks’ real estate agent responded with a message that said “the seller has declined the offer [for 5707]” and also didn’t wish to make a counteroffer.
Clayworks defended its decision to decline the leaseback option in a white paper published on its website earlier this week, saying it would create a conflict of interest interfering with the organization’s tax-exempt eligibility because Emmer’s spouse had already petitioned against the sale. The group also said the $800,000 bid was “well below market value.”
According to today’s announcement, Clayworks can remain in its two buildings until March 1, 2018, with all classes and programs proceeding normally until then. In the meantime, the board of directors will work on “Phase 2” of their plan, which entails crafting a strategy for relocation and developing a sustainable business model.
“We are committed to taking advantage of all the resources that are available and share our desire for the future of Clayworks,” Holt said in a statement today. “We need to draw on existing leaders of our community and city. With this broad base of engagement and support, Baltimore Clayworks will continue to carry out its mission.”
The board believes the $3.7 million price tag will be enough to pay for the move, new kilns and a build-out of its new space, wherever that may be. They’re exploring whether they could move Clayworks into one of Baltimore’s three designated arts districts, located in Station North, Highlandtown and the area surrounding the old Bromo Seltzer Tower.
Station North Arts and Entertainment District (SNAED) interim executive director Amelia Rambissoon wrote in an email that her organization fully supports Clayworks moving to their neighborhood.
SNAED “strives to ensure that the district builds on its reputation as a nationally recognized creative hub and maintains its appeal to a diverse population of locals and visitors from near and far,” she said. “Having Baltimore Clayworks in SNAED aligns with this mission and we are thrilled if they could [join] the thriving artist community that has been established.”
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