Mayor Brandon Scott and community leaders gathered on Tuesday to launch the renovation of Baltimore Unity Hall, a $9.7 million center for community arts, education and training at 1505 Eutaw Place.
The project involves the conversion of a three-story, 1960s-era union hall to a 30,000-square-foot hub for programs and organizations serving Bolton Hill, Madison Park, Upton and other communities in Central West Baltimore.
When complete next spring, Baltimore Unity Hall will contain offices, co-working and programming spaces at-below market rents for non-profits and community-based organizations serving the area. It will also contain an auditorium, artist studios and exhibit spaces that will make it a venue for community meetings, art exhibits, music performances and other cultural events.
The lower level will provide a workforce development center with a commercial kitchen and training and event spaces. Training will be provided at low or no cost to residents seeking employment.
The project could help remove barriers that have traditionally separated Black and white Baltimore, with its location between relatively-affluent neighborhoods of Mount Vernon and Bolton Hill and less wealthy neighborhoods to the west. The renovation is also expected to improve the building’s appearance while providing construction jobs.
“It’s great to be at yet another event celebrating positive change here in Baltimore,” Scott said.
“We know what this building used to be,” he said. “We know the state of disrepair this was in. A blight on the neighborhood. An eyesore. And you as a community took the initiative and turned what was a liability in this community into an incredible asset.”
Scott also praised the development team for creating programs that will train residents from the community to work as part of the construction team and then bring neighbors together once the building opens.
“This project is about making progress in reversing years of inequity and instead creating a vital and needed resource for community empowerment that revolves around the needs and desires of those who are living in the community,” he said. “We have to and we must be continually intentional and work with urgency to reverse these longstanding issues throughout our city.”
The building opened in 1964 as the Union Hall for the Amalgamated Clothing & Textile Workers and was one of the first examples of modern architecture in Bolton Hill. More recently, it was operated by the Empowerment Temple, which used it as a center for community programs but vacated it several years ago.
The conversion is being led by a partnership of Memorial Apartments Corporation (MAC) and Somerset Development Company. MAC, which acquired the former union hall in 2019, and Somerset have worked together on two apartment projects nearby. They renovated the former Memorial Apartments at 301 McMechen Street and renamed them the Linden Park Apartments, with 266 units for seniors. They used a former parking lot at McMechen Street and Eutaw Place as the footprint for The Jordan, a 62-unit market-rate apartment building with a street-level restaurant called The Tilted Row.
Ziger Snead is the architect for Unity Hall and Southway Builders is the general contractor. Lenders include The Reinventment Fund and Premier Bank.
Working with an advisory committee, the developers held a series of community listening sessions that led to a vision for the building’s use. Advisory committee members are Ateira Griffin of Building Our Nations Daughters (BOND); Nabeehah Azeez of No Boundaries Coalition; Emily Cory of Single Carrot Theatre; Washina Ford of The Community Builders; Stephanie Ray of Baltimore’s Music Box; David Hansen of The Samaritan Community; Grey Maggiano of Memorial Apartments Corporation and Jessica Wyatt, a community consultant.
Several dozen people gathered before noon on Tuesdday under a white tent in the Eutaw Place median in front of the building to celebrate the start of construction. Organizers say some space is available in the building for groups that would like to move in.