The controversial sale of Baltimore Clayworks’ two Mount Washington properties appears to be off.
Itineris, a Baltimore-based nonprofit serving adults with autism spectrum disorder, had agreed to buy the ceramic arts nonprofit’s buildings at 5706 and 5707 Smith Avenue for $3.7 million. However, as first reported by the Baltimore Jewish Times yesterday afternoon, Itineris backed out of the deal late last week.
Instead, the group plans to purchase the space they’ve already been renting on Rockrose Avenue in TV Hill. According to a release, Itineris signed a contract to purchase The Pointe at Rockrose after its owner’s offer “provided substantial savings” compared to the deal with Baltimore Clayworks.
“We are obligated to our families and individuals to take advantage of better stewarding of our financial resources, and this gives us a chance to do just that,” said Ami Taubenfeld, executive director of Itineris, in a statement.
In an interview with Baltimore Fishbowl in early June, Taubenfeld noted that a move from her organization’s current headquarters could be disruptive to the group’s client base. She revealed her group as the hopeful buyer of the buildings at a community meeting two weeks later.
Clayworks’ quest to sell its buildings has been arduous. Shouldering more than $1 million in outstanding obligations accrued up over the last 13 years, the group has sought to sell its property to pay off those debts, buy a new building – potentially in one of the city’s three arts districts – and retain a $2 million operating reserve. Clayworks originally asked $4.5 million for its properties, but agreed on a sale price of $3.7 million with Itineris.
A coalition of the group’s longtime members and Baltimore residents has launched a public drive to stop the transaction. The Clayworks Community Campaign has compiled more than 1,000 signatures for a petition protesting the sale, and picketed outside the headquarters on Smith Avenue.
Some local officials have backed their cause. After hearing from his constituents in Mount Washington, Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer sponsored a resolution opposing the sale. Schleifer and his council mates adopted the resolution on June 19.
Itineris denied that the campaign had any effect on their plans, and expressed support for Clayworks as it seeks to find solid financial footing.
“We support their current leadership’s steps to find a brighter future,” Taubenfeld said. “Clayworks can and should remain an important part of the city’s arts community.”
Because the state previously financed repairs for Clayworks’ buildings using roughly $800,000 worth of public bonds, the Maryland Board of Public Works would need to approve a sale of the Smith Avenue buildings. The board had yet to place the matter on any of its upcoming agendas as of yesterday, when the news broke that the deal had fallen through.
Clayworks interim executive director Devon Powell hasn’t responded to a request for comment on the state of the sale.
Pat Halle, an associate artist at Clayworks of more than 30 years and a member of the Clayworks Community Campaign, said “the way is now clear for the board to welcome back the community and craft a solution.”
The campaign has proposed a compromise plan to try to tackle Clayworks’ debt. It would involve paying back some of the money in monthly installments through 2017, pursuing a sale of the organization’s gallery building at 5707 Smith Avenue, and potentially an adjacent parking lot, and planning for Clayworks to expand — but not relocate — into one of the city’s arts districts.
The campaign has raised $200,000 for that plan so far, though the nonprofit hasn’t agreed to compromise.
To make matters worse, Clayworks has said it doesn’t have enough money to continue operating through the summer. The nonprofit launched a drive late last month to raise at least $50,000 to cover “immediate operating expenses,” including staff, teacher and artists wages and costs for summer camp supplies, adult education classes and community arts programming. The fundraiser has amassed about $7,000 so far.
“We’re in a critical situation and need immediate financial help to keep clay and ceramic arts available to Baltimore,” said Powell in a June 29 statement. “Without this additional funding, the organization might not make it to the completion of the contract.”
This story has been updated.