After three months, at least one of the Bell Foundry’s tenants is being let back into the building to resume their work.
Last night, at a public comment meeting of the Mayor’s Task Force on Safe Art Spaces, Acting Housing Commissioner Michael Braverman said the city will grant the Baltimore Rock Opera Society a use and occupancy (U&O) permit to re-enter its first-floor workshop and practice space in the DIY building in Station North, located at 1539 N. Calvert Street.
BROS and dozens of other artists were evicted from the Bell Foundry in early December due to building code violations discovered by the Fire Department. The evictions unfolded days after a similar space in Oakland known as “Ghost Ship” caught fire, killing 36 people.
A fire department spokesman said they shuttered the building due to a range of code violations, including lack of a valid permit, unsafe conditions, use of flammables and combustibles and unlawful removal of ceiling beams.
Braverman shared the news about BROS receiving the U&O permit for the first floor during an open exchange with Councilman Ryan Dorsey at the meeting inside the War Memorial Building downtown. He mentioned it after Dorsey voiced concerns about the city’s treatment of Bell Foundry tenants during the Dec. 5 evictions.
“They worked with us very closely and they were able to apply for the permit, get the work done and get a use and occupancy in a relatively short time,” Braverman said in an interview after the meeting.
The permit applies only for the first floor, he said, meaning others cannot reoccupy the second floor and basement that previously housed studio, living and event spaces.
“They have a permit for legitimate use, and if anybody else wants to do anything else there, they should go the route that BROS did,” Braverman said.
A BROS spokesman confirmed Thursday evening that the organization had been notified they would receive the permit, but said they still didn’t have a physical copy in hand. Artistic Director Aran Keating said his organization found it “very weird” Braverman would announce the news before they had the permit in hand, but said he was “optimistic” they would get it today “having cleared electrical and fire inspection and getting assurance from [Baltimore Housing] that they would issue the permit quickly.”
Baltimore Housing’s online public permit records haven’t been updated to reflect the new U&O permit for the first floor of the Bell Foundry.
For four years, the rock opera group had built up the space where its members practiced and constructed sets and decorations for their epic shows. The area housed many of their workshop tools, some of which were stolen in a burglary in the vacant space on Monday, Jan. 24.
Keating said in an email that obtaining the permit was an arduous process that took more than two months.
“The hurdles involved in unraveling the mechanisms that were in place to make the Bell Foundry function and then starting the permitting process from scratch with city officials has been a major chore,” he said, “and it is clear that the city’s processes and bureaucracy are constructed in ways that discourage non-professional developers.”
Some artists and community advocates voiced similar concerns at the public comment meeting about the length of time required to obtain permits from the city to use or modify spaces.
“We were in a privileged position where some city officials has decided to aid our process so as not to be responsible for sinking a budding nonprofit [organization],” Keating said. “Despite this aid…getting this U&O was still an incredibly difficult process.”