A former 1960s-era labor union hall on Eutaw Place is being converted to a nonprofit arts and education center that will serve Bolton Hill, Madison Park and Upton.
The center, called Union Hall, will be created inside the former Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers union hall at 1505 Eutaw Place, dormant for the past several years.
Plans call for the three-story building to be converted to a multi-purpose center for community arts, education and job training. Once renovated, it will provide a home for theater and musical events, art exhibits and studios, catered events and other community activities, as well as employment training, referrals, and health and wellness services.
The project, which is expected to cost $5 million, is being led by the Memorial Apartments Corp. (MAC) and the Somerset Development Company LLC, operators of two apartment communities nearby.
According to Rev. Grey Maggiano, the rector at Memorial Episcopal Church in Bolton Hill and a member of the MAC board, part of the goal in developing the center is to create a place that will serve communities on both sides of Eutaw Place, traditionally a dividing line between the relatively affluent neighborhoods of Mount Vernon and Bolton Hill and the less affluent communities of Madison Park, Upton and Marble Hill.
“It’s our hope that Union Hall will serve everyone who lives on both sides of Eutaw Place and it will be a place to bridge that invisible boundary between what is white Baltimore and what is black Baltimore,” he said.
According to a statement from the organizers, “The Union Hall is intended to break down barriers that have traditionally divided the community and to build a healthy, safe neighborhood for all, by providing offices and working spaces for organizations offering programs beneficial to the community. It will be run on a nonprofit basis.”
The 30,000-square-foot building opened in 1964 and was one of the first modern-style structures buildings in Bolton Hill. Early tenants included the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America Health and Welfare Fund labor union from 1970 to 1980, the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers labor union from 1985 to 1995, and Sisters Together and Reaching in 2008.
More recently, the Empowerment Temple Church used it as a center for community programs, but it left several years ago. According to organizers of the proposed arts center, the building had deteriorated due to deferred maintenance and was in need of extensive repairs before it could be occupied again.
MAC is the nonprofit owner of the building, and Somerset is its development partner, leading the design and construction aspects of the project. Ziger/Snead is the architect for the conversion, which will retain its modernist exterior, according to Maggiano.
As part of the conversion, the commercial kitchen and large banquet hall on the building’s lower level will be renovated to create a place for catering operations and culinary training, providing experience for people seeking employment in the restaurant industry. To date, organizers say, several catering businesses have expressed interest in the space.
In addition, the building’s first-level theater will be upgraded to serve local theater and dance groups, nonprofits or other entities or individuals that need affordable performance space. Plans call for a flexible theater that can accommodate 300 to 500 people.
MAC and Somerset have created a Union Hall Advisory Board to help guide operations of the center. Besides Maggiano, members include Ray Kelly of the Citizens Policing Project, Nancy Hooff of Somerset, and Jessica Wyatt, an independent community engagement specialist.
MAC, which acquired the union hall in January 2019, and Somerset have worked together on two projects nearby. They renovated the former Memorial Apartments at 301 McMechen St. and renamed them the Linden Park Apartments, with 266 units for seniors.
They also subdivided the original Memorial Apartments property and 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.
So far, organizers say, there has been strong interest in Union Hall, with organizations such as the Citizens Policing Project, The Community Builders and Building Our Nations’ Daughters, a group that provides mentors for single mothers, expressing interest in serving as anchor tenants.
The developers are still raising money to complete the project and may ask the state legislature to pass a bond bill to help fund the work. The team has completed preliminary work to stabilize the building, including roof work, waterproofing and removing asbestos from the interior, Maggiano said. Organizers are aiming to begin full-scale construction work in the spring of 2020 and to complete the project later that year.
“We feel confident that, with the vision put forth, we will get funding,” he said. “The more funding we’re able to get, the more affordable the rates will be for space in the building, and the more people we’ll be able to serve.”
They’re holding a public event at the Druid Hill YMCA on Nov. 23, from 2-5 p.m., to give an update on their progress in completing the project.