For many Baltimoreans, Bill Struever needs no introduction. Yet a re-introduction might be in order since he’s kept a lower profile following the fall of his original company, the legendary Struever Brothers, Eccles & Rouse. But he’s back, and in full-force. The urban pioneer is currently Principal of Master Planning and Real Estate Development for Cross Street Partners, the real estate consulting firm he helped found in the wake of the economic crash of 2008. Cross Street allows the native Baltimorean to keep busy re-imagining this city (and others), but without the heavy debt burden that ultimately forced SBER to close its doors in 2009.
One of Bill’s recent projects is the Baltimore Food Hub, a healthy food campus in East Baltimore. “The local food economy is important to cities across America both from an economic development (growing jobs and businesses) and health (nutrition and wellness) perspectives,” he says. “The Baltimore Food Hub, a project of our foundation American Communities Trust (ACT), aims to create a high energy, synergistic campus of food related businesses, programs and services. Current plans for the Food Hub include a kitchen business incubator, a production kitchen for Woodberry Kitchen, hoop houses for Big City Farms and a model Edible Schoolyard garden and teaching kitchen, a feed and seed store and farmstand and a lively co-working/ classroom space for food related businesses and programs. When riding Amtrak through East Baltimore, you will be able to look to the north and see glorious transformation of old Wire sets into urban farms and food businesses.”
Bill has always been an expert miner of gold in even the brownest of “brownfields” (underused industrial sites containing hazardous materials), and unlike many people in the real estate game, he has a holistic vision that extends beyond the profit motive to the very health of the American City. His ACT foundation echoes his mentor James Rouse’s non-profit Enterprise Community Partners, and is “dedicated to improving social and economic conditions in low-income communities.” He has been a leader in Green urban revitalization, always preferring to reuse than to replace, his projects consistently LEED certified. He is outspoken on the need for more efficient urban transportation systems, and served on the Baltimore City School Board for many years. Ever since the days he spent as a master electrician in the 1970’s, wiring the Baltimore rowhomes that his brother Freddie and his friend Cobber Eccles were renovating, Bill has been passionate about helping Baltimore move forward intelligently.
When did you define your most important goals, and what are they?
When I dropped out of high school, worked at the 3rd Ward Urban Renewal Agency (still could smell the burned out buildings from the ’68 riots) and became quickly dismayed by the destruction of a community. I spoke up, got “fired” and fired up: Make a difference. Make the world a better place. Never give up. (Bill eventually graduated from Brown University with a Bachelor of Arts in Urban Anthropology.)
What is the best advice you ever got that you followed?
If you succeed at everything that you set out to do, your goals aren’t set high enough. (James Rouse)
What is a surprising truth you have discovered in your lifetime?
Boldness—in setting high aspirations that rally the larger community around a common goal– has magic and power to it. (another Jim Rouse wisdom)
What advice would you give a young person who aspires to do what you are doing?
Explore, learn, find a place where you will be passionate in being relevant in making the world a better place. Don’t be satisfied with boring/bored.
What is the best moment of the day?
Best moments are all around us. We just need to be aware and capture them. Carpe diem.
What is on your bedside table?
Note cards with my “to do” list of ideas/issues for the next day. A pile of books that I don’t get around to reading.
What is your favorite local food or restaurant?
Woodberry Kitchen—warm, cozy and cheerful-always a joyous evening. And tasty.
What is the best film you’ve seen this year?
“The Adventures of Tintin”, my childhood hero fighting villains, protecting the downtrodden around the world.
What is your favorite local charity?
Baltimore City Public Schools
As someone who has worked in real estate for decades, how do you and Cross Street Partners stay at the forefront of your industry?
We are blessed with great projects and partners that keep us at the leading edge of what’s exciting in the continuing renaissance of America’s cities. Through our work with urban university related research parks, we’ve travelled America seeing the coolest spots, listening to the best and brightest and learning. We take great joy in connecting together great people and ideas to create magical, high energy places that celebrate our cities.
As someone interested in urban transportation systems, what is your vision for a more walkable Baltimore?
Cities that will grow and prosper in the coming years are transit towns—where people with choice can live without a car and get conveniently to where they want to go. 80% of graduates of Baltimore colleges last year said that having great transit was the most important factor in selecting where they wanted to live and work. The innovation economy is all about young, creative people. Young people want transit (and BIKES!). Charles St. Trolley is only viable if we come together as a community and create the political willpower to make transit happen. Washington DC is eating Baltimore’s lunch in transit advocacy. With impending approval of new state transportation funding in Annapolis combined with the recent Federal approval of $1 billion in funding for the Redline, we have a golden moment to come together as a community to create a comprehensive action plan to make Baltimore a true Transit Town!
How is your restoration of the Bailey Power Plant going?
We are advising Piedmont Triad Research Park on the adaptive reuse of this amazing relic of the old RJR Tobacco Campus in downtown Winston Salem. Located in the strategic center of this fast growing “Knowledge Community”, our goal is to create an iconic social hub as the ultimate “gathering place” for the broader community.
You are working with the developers of the “Olmstead Lot” on St. Paul St. by Hopkins University. What are the considerations being made regarding its use?
Our first priority is to implement the Charles Village community’s long standing goals for this site including, first and foremost, great retail and restaurants. The new building will create the necessary critical mass of retail, “double loading” St Paul and 33rd Streets with a lively streetscape so that the Charles Village retail area can prosper.
What is the next hot neighborhood in Baltimore for development? What are your thoughts on the North Avenue corridor, given the new theater developments, etc.?
Baltimore has a bunch of “next” hot neighborhoods. Lots of great things happening. Station North is amazing. A valiant group of artists and community leaders, with passionate support from Doreen Bolger at BMA, Fred Lazarus at MICA, Hopkins, University of Baltimore and the Mayor’s Office, are creating a juggernaut of action largely using chewing gum and bailing wire as far as resources. Going forward, Station North will be linked by our development of Penn Station and adjacent Amtrak property, where we are teamed up with my old friend and partner Michael Beatty.
As a former member of the city school board, are you optimistic in the direction it is going?
Today parents in Baltimore with school age children have a range of excellent choices. Through our foundation, American Communities Trust (ACT), we are helping with plans for Edible Schoolyards in 8 schools and are partnered on school improvement projects in 5 schools. We are inspired by the terrific leadership at the school level. Healthy food for all 85,000 students via a great central commissary (the “hub” of the Baltimore Food Hub) is our next aspiration.
Do you ever use your electrician skills at all these days?
Only to tell stories.