Reshaping the Neighborhood – Walbrook Mill

Reshaping the Neighborhood Commercial projects that affect the prospects for small developers. On occasion, larger-scale commercial and mixed-use projects have such a significant scale that they reshape the surrounding neighborhood, and in some cases make it substantially more feasible for small developers to do rehab work.

This spotlight on four large developments highlights some of these high-impact projects, based on interviews with their developers: WALBROOK MILL REDEVELOPMENT JAMES RIGGS, OSPREY DEVELOPMENT When James Riggs of Osprey Property Company first viewed the site of the shuttered Walbrook Lumber Yard in 2015, he thought it had the potential to be something special. The five-acre site is situated immediately west of Coppin State University, a campus that had recently completed a building spree, including the $83 million Science and Technology Center completed in 2015. Few sites in West Baltimore offer such size and proximity to an anchor institution. Unfortunately, the developer’s math did not add up. “We knew that without additional resources, the lumber yard site would sit vacant for a long time,” said Riggs. Then a year later, Governor Hogan announced Project C.O.R.E. (short for Creating Opportunities for Renewal and Enterprise), a program intended help rebuild Baltimore neighborhoods by assembling and clearing underutilized properties. Osprey quickly jumped and put the lumber yard under contract. Riggs added “even with site control, we recognized that for the site to meet its full transformative potential, we needed on-the ground partners that would bring the community together to shape and support the project.” In partnership with Coppin Heights Community Development Corporation (CHCDC) and Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore (NHS), Osprey applied for and received $3 million in Project C.O.R.E. funds to acquire and raze the site, as well as financing for the 65-unit Walbrook Mill Apartments that included $14.6 million in private tax credit equity. There were, of course, many more variables to success, but Riggs gives most of the credit to the collaboration between the for-profit Osprey and its non-profit partners CHCDC and NHS. “Bringing different perspectives to the table, all with the common goal to create a successful project for the community was critical” said Riggs. The team knew that this community needed a high-impact project that would both fill voids in the neighborhood and create the excitement and buzz needed to attract additional investment. One of those voids is food service. One of the only full-service restaurants in the community is located about a mile from the site at Mondawmin Mall, so the team sought to add a food component to Walbrook Mill. Nearly the entire first floor of the new building has been dedicated to a food hall dubbed The Mill on North. In a stroke of luck, this component had not been built out when COVID-19 hit, which would have made for a difficult launch. Construction on the food hall is expected start in early 2021. A great advantage of having the retail on the first floor of the Walbrook Mill project is that it provides an additional amenity for the residents who are occupying the other three floors. In addition, in December 2019, BBT (now Truist Bank) opened a branch on the retail level. A major bank in the neighborhood was sorely missing. As a sign of how badly needed such a project was, back in April 2020, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, over 50 families moved into the building in just a few weeks. With an additional three acres available to develop on the parcel, plans for future expansion of the project are underway. Per the agreement between the three development partners, all proceeds from the sale of the remaining land will be reinvested into West North Avenue to support future redevelopment efforts surrounding the site. Osprey and CHCDC are partnering on two additional projects that will provide an additional boost to some challenged neighborhoods in West Baltimore: Midtown at Coppin COURTESY PHOTOS 47 WINTER 2020-2021 YARD 56 DAVE BRAMBLE, MCB REAL ESTATE There is no shortage of media stories on David Bramble and MCB Real Estate for a reason. David and his team continue to make an impact in his hometown of Baltimore, with several ongoing and developing projects having a significant impact on their surrounding communities. According to Bramble, MCB’s Yard 56 project is a key example of a project with massive impact on a community. Prior to MCBs involvement, this area was once a contaminated brownfield site with abandoned buildings. “People would leave the beautiful campus of Johns Hopkins Bayview only to look at this rustbelt disaster that was once a source of pride,” says Bramble. But now a sense of pride for the community is returning. Even the initial demolition changed the landscape. Now with the completion of the retail portion of Yard 56, you can see a great-looking industrial design that is fitting but fresh. Yard 56 has become an amazing asset for the community and has generated much interest in the growth of a mixed income/class neighborhood without any displacement. The surrounding community sees this as a sign that things are on the rise. The next phase of the project will include a 220-unit apartment building and a 100,000 square-foot office building. Northwood Commons, another of MCB’s projects, is similar in that the new project replaces an old eyesore without any displacement and provides a new centerpiece for the community. According to Bramble, this project came with a number of stakeholders built-in, including but not limited to, Morgan State University, multiple surrounding community associations, the State of Maryland and the City of Baltimore, along with other equity partners. Given the proximity to the University, leases have already been signed with Lidl Grocery, Barnes & Noble College Book Stores, as well as with Morgan State for its new Public Safety building. Bramble says that this project has been a true story of collaboration, adding that he thinks the surrounding area is strong enough for small developers to consider. Over in West Baltimore, MCB is still jumping hurdles to realize the plans laid out for Madison Park North, which runs along North Avenue in Reservoir Hill near Interstate 83. Just the act of demolishing the old housing project was an improvement. Recently announced plans are massive in scope, and will have significant impacts on the community. “All three of the projects were game-changers,” says Bramble. Either they replaced a contaminated brownfield, replaced a large source of blight surrounded by great neighborhoods, or added a sense of place to an otherwise undefined area. He adds, “I think it’s important to express to [small developers] how impactful their role is [in] eliminating vacancies and improving the homes. They truly are the ones who drive the most direct impact for our communities.” Heights (formerly Rosemont Gardens) on Winchester Street and Parkway Overlook (formerly Gwynn Crest) on Hilton. Both projects are located in Greater Coppin Heights and are in need of upgrades to extend their useful life. These projects will rehabilitate and preserve as affordable 199 and 180 units respectively. Construction is expected to start in 2021 on both projects. Riggs sees a great opportunity to have impacts on communities through thoughtful development. He encourages small developers to base their decisions on both impact and the potential for returns. “If you’re simply watching the news about these neighborhoods, you’re going to miss out on opportunities in some great, but undervalued, communities.”

SDC Magazine