Once a thriving DIY arts space in Station North, before its tenants were abruptly evicted and the building was condemned by the city over code violations in December 2016, the Bell Foundry building has now been sold to developers to be built into an “urban living” complex.
Zahlco Development purchased the property.
“We’re happy that these guys are gonna redevelop the site and continue to grow the neighborhood and the city,” said Jeremy Landsman, co-owner of Avenue Real Estate, which brokered the deal.
The building was put up for sale with its surrounding .31-acre lot in April 2017 for $1 million (later lowered to $899,000), touted as a development opportunity. Landsman, who was also part of the property’s former ownership group as a partner in JBL Calvert LLC (the other co-owner was Calvert Lofts LLC, per state tax records), confirmed the building was sold for “in the ballpark” of $725,000.
Asked about the price being below what they had asked for, he said, “We’re happy that it’s the best thing for the city, and Baltimore needs good things happening. Baltimore doesn’t need people sitting on buildings. We were really happy that we are able to get all the partners to agree to move the asset to somebody who’s going to do something with it immediately.” (Landsman clarified in a follow-up call that he was speaking not as an owner of the property, but as the broker.)
He advised reaching out to Zahlco for details on its plans, but said, “they’ve told me what they’re going to do is apartments and keep the existing building.”
An employee who answered the phone at Zahlco asked that Baltimore Fishbowl send an email with questions, including about the number of planned apartments, potential amenities and parking and more. The company has not yet responded.
The Baltimore Rock Opera Society is the space’s last remaining tenant. The troupe was approved to return to its first-floor home base there in spring of 2017, though it’s since been working on finding a new, permanent home.
BROS artistic director Aran Keating told Baltimore Fishbowl Tuesday evening that the group is “optimistic about the future of the Bell Foundry as an arts space, but the building’s future is in Zahlco’s hands.”
“So far we’ve only had conversations and nothing’s in writing, but we are optimistic.”
At the time of the 2016 shutdown, rumors about redevelopment floated among the artists who lived there, City Paper reported at the time. A Facebook statement from “The Bell Foundry Family” acknowledged as much.
“Renewal was not an impossibility, but was doubtful from both the property owners, and lease holders’ perspectives,” it read. “We remained in the space for quite some time, through multiple lease terms, and strove for the highest level of autonomy throughout.”
The area saw a flurry of development projects take shape just before the closure, including a state office building constructed right next door to the arts space. In the years since, at least one project has come online, the Nelson Kohl apartments at E. Lanvale Street, and there’s likely more on the way with the redevelopment of Penn Station inching closer to the finish line.
The artists who lived and performed there hailed the space as a bastion for LGBTQ artists and artists of color. Qué Pequeño, one half of the noise duo Melanin Free who lived and booked shows at the Bell Foundry, told the alt-weekly, “This place saved my life. Literally.”
The eviction came days* after a fire at a DIY arts space in Oakland, Ghost Ship, killed dozens, but the abruptness with which the city moved in to close the space and kick out the residents without their belongings or a place to go was widely criticized.
In the aftermath, Mayor Catherine Pugh, then just starting her term, formed the Safe Arts Space Task Force. While the task force did have some stakeholders in the arts community, it did not include anyone from the Bell Foundry.
Months later, Pugh issued an executive order to protect other arts spaces from being condemned so long as they developed a plan with fire and building inspectors to fix any violations.
After meeting several times, the task force largely went silent, and didn’t issue a report until after the one-year anniversary of the Bell Foundry eviction. The report offered 40 recommendations, including formulating a business plan to turn vacant buildings into artist spaces.
*Correction: An earlier version of this post inaccurately said the eviction of the Bell Foundry came weeks after the Ghost Ship fire. It was a couple days later. Baltimore Fishbowl regrets the error.