After more than 20 years as a landlord in Mount Vernon, The Walters Art Museum may be getting out of the rental apartment business.
The museum has put three apartment buildings up for sale, with the goal of raising funds to support its arts-related programs and initiatives.
The buildings for sale are one block west of the Walters Art Museum, at 606, 608 and 610 Cathedral Street. They date from around 1900 and contain a total of 28 market-rate rental apartments. The museum is working with Harbor Stone Advisors of Baltimore and is selling the three buildings as a package. The price is $3.075 million.
Gabriella Souza, communications manager for The Walters, said the museum’s board wanted to test the current strong real estate market to see if it can raise money to support its core programs.
“Given the residential real estate market, we have decided to explore opportunities to sell these properties and use the funds for strategic museum initiatives,” she said in an email message. “The properties were listed in late May.”
If the buildings sell, Souza said, “we will use the proceeds to fund long-term mission-driven, strategic priorities, including capital projects, programmatic initiatives and the care of our historic campus of buildings.”
The Cathedral Street apartments, marketed as Cathedral Crossing, are the only rental apartments The Walters owns. If they’re sold, the museum would be out of the apartment rental business.
The Walters acquired the Cathedral Street buildings between 1999 and 2006, initially with the idea of tearing them down to make way for new construction. The museum board and then-director Gary Vikan were working with New York architect James Polshek at the time on a strategic master plan for The Walters campus.
The Polshek Partnership, now known as Ennead, was the architect for the renovation of the museum’s 1974 wing and the design of its Centre Street entrance. While working in Baltimore, it designed a possible expansion that could be built on the parking lot at the northwest corner of Cathedral and Centre streets, containing offices, gallery space and art storage.
The Cathedral Street apartment buildings are just north of the parking lot, and the museum acquired them with the idea of knocking them down to enlarge the footprint for the expansion. The museum didn’t move ahead with its plans, the economy took a dive in 2008 and Vikan stepped down, but the museum held onto the apartments.
One reason the demolition didn’t move ahead is that the buildings are part of the Mount Vernon historic district, and the museum would have needed approval from the city’s preservation commission to demolish them. Although the listing doesn’t state it clearly, any new owner also would need approval from the Commission for Historical and Architectural Commission to alter the exteriors, up to and including demolition.
Souza said in her email message that the museum’s future campus plans do not incorporate the Cathedral Street buildings in any major building projects. In addition, she said, “we do not feel that the museum should expend its resources on properties and property management as these are not mission-based activities.”
According to the listing by Harbor Stone Advisors, the package includes a mix of studios, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, and there is potential for a buyer to upgrade the apartments and raise rents. The middle building has a brownstone façade, while the others have front facades of brick or a mix of brick and stone.
Since 2006, the area has seen numerous improvements in all directions, including renovation of the Enoch Pratt Free Library and Baltimore Basilica on Cathedral Street; new apartments and a food hall on Park Avenue; expansion and renaming of the Maryland Historical Society, now the Maryland Center for History and Culture, and changes to the Walters itself, including restoration of the Hackerman House at 1 West Mount Vernon Place. The building to the north, Hotel Revival, is now part of the JdV by Hyatt network.
The surrounding neighborhood is one of the properties’ greatest assets, the brokers note in their listing. Because of the location, they say, “residents at Cathedral Crossing are just steps away from the arts, culture, nightlife and dining that Mount Vernon has to offer.”
Baltimore Fishbowl editor & publisher Susan G. Dunn is a board member of the Walters Art Museum.