A former public library in Fells Point is expected to become a community resource hub and collaborative work setting, pending the Baltimore City Council’s approval of the property sale. Photo by Ed Gunts.

A former public library in Fells Point is expected to become a community resource hub and collaborative work setting, after city officials backed a local design and development team’s proposal to renovate and expand the property.

Baltimore’s Board of Estimates this month approved a land disposition agreement that calls for former Enoch Pratt Free Library Branch No. 19 at 606 S. Ann St. to be sold for $330,000 to Library 19 LLC, a group headed by architects Pavlina Ilieva and Kuo Pao Lian of PI.KL Studio. The sale still must be approved by the Baltimore City Council.

The sale price is lower than the cost of many Fells Point townhouses. But it comes with one big condition: The buyer must agree to renovate the building and use it in a way that will enrich the civic life of the Fells Point community. Part of a historic district, the midblock site is very deep, extending the full length of a city block from South Ann Street to South Regester Street.

Library 19 LLC was one of two groups that responded to a request for proposals issued in 2020 by the city’s housing department for the Fells Point property, which hasn’t been a Pratt library since 2001. The second group proposed to build six houses in place of the library’s back garden and renovate the library as a community space using proceeds from the home sales.

The second team offered to pay the city $1 for the library but said that six houses selling for $600,000 each would generate more than $800,000 in tax revenue to the city after 10 years. But some residents said they weren’t happy that so much of the green space behind the library — once a World War II Victory Garden and later a community “reading garden” — would be filled in by private residences.

City Council member Zeke Cohen said at a meeting held to review the two proposals that, given the property’s history, he wanted to see it remain accessible to the public.

“From my perspective, I really, really, really hope to see some community use, whether that’s as a library, whether that’s as a meeting space, whether that’s as an arts space for artists to gather, whether it’s a space for young people, whether it’s a space to serve…our immigrant community. I just want to make sure that community truly plays a role, that it’s not just sold off to the highest bidder.”

Following the community review meeting, Ilieva and Lian were granted an exclusive negotiating privilege that allowed them to flesh out their proposal in greater detail so they would have a good idea of its cost and construction time frame. They plan to move their company’s offices to the property and make space available for other groups or individuals from the community. They say possibilities range from holding events in the space to using it for teaching, for co-working, for community meetings, or as a business incubator, food lab or gallery.

Initially, Lian said, PI.KL’s office’s will move into the library. The long-range plan is to build a separate “annex” on the west side of the property for the design firm’s offices, freeing up space in the library for others from the community, and keep a green space in the middle. The projected budget is $1 million to $1.5 million. PI.KL will be the project architect, and the tentative name is Library 19.

Ultimately, Lian said, he and Ilieva want to make it a public asset and amenity. “We want this to be a collaborative effort with the community,” he said.

The library opened in 1922. It was designed by William W. Emmart and built with funding from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and others. The most recent occupant was Education-Based Latino Outreach, an organization that moved out four years ago.

PI.KL is active in a wide range of projects in the city, from housing to offices to recreational and retail facilities, including R House in Remington and Broadway Market in Fells Point. Much of its work involves restoring and rehabbing historic structures such as Library 19. Developer clients include 28 Walker Development; Workshop Development and La Cite Development.

The architects are working to turn the former Greyhound bus station at 601 N. Howard St. into a community center and squash courts for SquashWise, a non profit previously based at Meadow Mill Athletic Club. It designed a series of park structures for Port Covington. When North Roland Park residents weren’t happy with the design of the proposed Claiborne Senior Living community planned for a site near Falls Road and Northern Parkway, Claiborne added Ilieva as design consultant.

Ilieva serves as chair of Baltimore’s Urban Design and Architecture Advisory Panel. Lian is on the city’s Public Art Commission and Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation.

According to the Board of Estimates agenda for its Oct. 19 meeting, the library property had an appraised value of $333,000 as of Nov. 24, 2021. Under the land disposition agreement, Library 19 LLC will pay $100,000.00 at the time of settlement by certified funds, and the City of Baltimore will provide $230,000 towards the purchase price of the property in the form of a subordinate seller take-back mortgage that will terminate 30 years following the date of settlement.

Depending on when the city’s sale process is complete, Lian said, his team is aiming to start construction on the first phase of the project in the first or second quarter of 2023.

Zahlco said to be in talks to redevelop key University of Baltimore property

The former U.S. Postal Service Vehicle Repair Facility at Maryland Avenue and Oliver Street. Photo by Ed Gunts.

The University of Baltimore has narrowed its search for a team to lead redevelopment of a key parcel it controls, the former United States Postal Service Vehicle Maintenance Facility at Maryland Avenue and Oliver Street.

The university received proposals from three teams that expressed interest in redeveloping the property and is “proceeding with further interaction with one of the three firms,” university spokesman Chris Hart said in an email message.

Besides being on the western edge of the university’s campus, the former garage occupies a strategic location between Mount Vernon, Bolton Hill and Station North. With mostly blank walls facing Maryland Avenue and Oliver Street, it’s almost always covered with graffiti.

Hart would not identify the one finalist or say how it proposes to redevelop the property. Others familiar with the selection process say the developer still in talks with the university is Yonah Zahler of Zahlco Companies, an organization that has completed several projects close to the midtown campus, including apartments at 9 E. Mount Royal Ave.; office and retail space at 11 E. Mount Royal Ave., and apartments at 824 N. Calvert St.

Zahlco Companies includes Zahlco Construction, Zahlco Management and Zahlco Development. A specialist in building and managing housing near urban campuses, it’s nearing completion on apartments and arts-oriented space at The Bell Foundry at 1539 N. Calvert St., near Penn Station; and apartments at 725 W. Pratt St., near the University of Maryland-Baltimore and the University of Maryland Medical System.

The Foundry Lofts at 1539 N. Calvert St. Photo by Ed Gunts.

It also owns the former Congress Hotel at 306 W. Franklin St., now apartments; The Gilman at 3025-3043 N. Calvert St.; 613 Portland St., and 313 S. Broadway. It’s planning apartments in and around the salvaged front façade of the historic Mayfair Theatre at 506 N. Howard St., with Moseley Architects as its designer.

The selection of a developer for the Maryland Avenue property requires approval from the University System of Maryland Board of Regents and the Maryland Board of Public Works. Hart said it’s likely that the redevelopment plan would be presented to the Board of Regents in late winter or early spring of 2023, followed by a session with the Board of Public Works.

Patagonia sets Nov. 5 and 6 as its Grand Opening Weekend

Patagonia will have a Grand Opening Weekend for its new Baltimore store on Nov. 5 and 6. With 15,000 square of space in the historic E. J. Codd building at 700 S. Caroline St., the Baltimore store is the largest yet for the retailer, known for its outdoor clothing and gear. The first 150 customers will receive a limited-edition print by artist Caleb Luke Lin that celebrates the work of Blue Water Baltimore.

Station North building hits the auction block

The building at 1816 N. Charles St. will go up for auction on Nov. 1 at 11 a.m. Photo courtesy of A. J. Billig Auctioneers.

With Baltimore’s Artscape festival moving up towards the Station North arts district in 2023, one long-dormant building on Charles Street is ready for a new owner.

The stone-clad building at 1816 N. Charles St., just south of the SNF Parkway Theatre, will go up for auction on Nov. 1 at 11 a.m., in a sale on the premises by A. J. Billig Auctioneers. According to Billig’s website, ajbillig.com, the most recent use was a café and five upper-level apartments.

Jonathan Jensen’s Ode to Dumpster Day

local musician and composer Jonathan Jensen has written an ode to Baltimore’s Dumpster Day. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Jensen.

As community groups around Baltimore organize neighborhood clean-up events in preparation for the holidays, local musician and composer Jonathan Jensen has written “an ode to a long-awaited neighborhood event” – Dumpster Day.

Jensen is the playwright behind “Do It Now,” the recent musical tribute to the late William Donald Schaefer at the Fells Point Corner Theater. His ode can be sung to the tune of Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday”:

Dumpster Day –
All my rubbish will be hauled away,
Though it seemed like it was here to stay.
Oh, I’m relieved it’s Dumpster Day.
Suddenly
There’s not half the crap there used to be.
So much neat uncluttered space I see,
Oh, Dumpster Day came finally.
Well, it had to go, don’t you know,
It couldn’t stay.
So I came along with the throng
On Dumpster Day —-
Dumpster Day
Busted chairs and ugly macrame.
Now the junk’s no longer in my way.
Oh, I’m relieved – it’s Dumpster Day!

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Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.

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2 Comments

  1. Ed:
    So good to see that you continue to follow the redevelopment of Baltimore
    properties.
    Keep it up.
    Regards,
    Ron Russo, President, RAR Associates
    I now focus on exclusively waterfront properties in Southern Maryland.

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