Community members petitioning for Baltimore Clayworks to forego selling its two historic Mount Washington buildings say they’re not done fighting.
Clayworks, the city’s 37-year-old, ceramics-centered nonprofit, announced Wednesday that its leaders have signed a contract to sell the studio and gallery buildings, located at 5706 and 5707 Smith Avenue, respectively, to an unidentified local nonprofit. The planned sale price for the two buildings is $3.7 million — $800,000 below what the nonprofit had been asking only a month ago.
But members of the Clayworks Community Campaign, a coalition of residents who have voiced strong opposition to the sale, note that the deal is still not set in stone.
“Basically, they’ve signed this contract. The sale is not complete until that contract is closed and settled. Our campaign is continuing,” said Marsha Smelkinson, a spokeswoman for the campaign.
Smelkinson, a student, member, donor and volunteer at Clayworks for the last seven years, started a petition earlier this year calling for the group to terminate its sale plans. It’s received more than 860 community members’ signatures (a small number of which the nonprofit has deemed invalid in a white paper).
“We don’t have authority,” she said. “We have public opinion, and it’s vast, and it’s widespread, and it’s, as close as I can ascertain, universal. I’ve yet to see anyone here — other than the representatives of the board – express support for the sale of all the assets and the move.”
Clayworks is looking to sell and relocate because it’s accrued $900,000 in debt over the last 13 years, and is struggling to remain solvent with its given endowment and fundraising pool.
Board president Kathy Holt wrote in a February announcement that the group wants to stabilize its finances and open up the possibility of expanding. On Wednesday, the group said it’s exploring potentially moving to one of the city’s three designated arts and entertainment districts in Station North, Highlandtown and around the old Bromo Seltzer Tower, assuming it can close on the proposed deal.
Speaking by phone today, interim executive director Devon Powell said that to execute the contract of sale, leaders have to bring it before the Maryland Board of Public Works, which comprises Gov. Larry Hogan, state Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp.
The board needs to approve any sale because of state-funded past renovations of its facilities with public bonds — $800,000 worth, according to the Clayworks Community Campaign.
Petitioners say they’ve identified the prospective buyer of the properties. Powell declined to confirm the purchaser’s identity.
The Clayworks Community Campaign has scheduled a community meeting on Monday, June 12, from 6-8 p.m. More details about where weren’t immediately available, though updates will be posted to the group’s website and Facebook page.
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