the baltimore unity hall



Somerset Development Company, LLC and The Memorial Apartments  Corporation (MAC) have partnered to acquire, renovate and transform the  former Empowerment Temple, located at 1505 Eutaw Place, into a Center  for Community Arts, Education and Job-Training. Once renovated, the  Unity Hall will bring neighbors from the surrounding communities  together in Central West Baltimore (Bolton Hill, Madison Park, and  Upton) through cultural and educational activities, and job-training  programs. The Unity Hall will provide a venue for local theater and  musical events, art exhibits, catered events and similar  community-oriented activities, as well as employment training,  referrals, and health and wellness services.

The building was originally built in 1964 as the Union Hall for  Amalgamated Clothing & Textile Workers and, several years ago, the  Empowerment Temple Church ran community programs out of the building.  The building has approximately 30,000 square feet on three levels. In  recent years, the building has declined rapidly due to deferred  maintenance and is in dire need of repair.

The development of the Unity Hall as a Center for Community Arts,  Education and Training is being done collaboratively with community  input to create a common vision and commitment to serve the needs of the  surrounding communities. The Unity Hall is intended to break down  barriers that have traditionally divided the community and to build a  healthy, safe neighborhood for all, by providing offices and working  spaces for organizations offering programs beneficial to the community.  It will be run on a non-profit basis.

Renovation of the commercial kitchen and large banquet hall on the  lower level will create a venue for local catering operations and  culinary arts training, which will provide a real world experience for  those seeking employment in the restaurant industry. To date, several  on-going catering businesses have expressed interest in the space. In  addition, the building's theater space will be upgraded to serve as a  venue for local theater groups, non-profits or other entities or  individuals in need of affordable, flexible space.

A Unity Hall Advisory Board has been created to advise MAC, the  non-profit 501c3 owner of the building and their development partner  Somerset, which is leading the design and development aspects of the  building renovation. The Advisory Board is made up of key stakeholders and community members: Ray Kelly of the Citizens Policing Project, the Reverend Grey Maggiano of MAC and the Memorial Episcopal Church; Ateira Griffin of Building Our Nation’s Daughters, Washina Ford of the Community Builders, Ashiah Parker of No Boundaries Coalition, Eric Somerville of the YMCA, Nancy Hooff of Somerset Development Company, and Jessica Wyatt, an independent Community Engagement Specialist.

MAC, a 501c3 non-profit, in conjunction with Somerset, a  mission-driven for-profit firm, acquired the building in January 2019.  MAC and Somerset have successfully partnered on other projects  contiguous to the Unity Hall. The redevelopment of Linden Park  Apartments (formerly the Memorial Apartments) preserved 266 units of  affordable, senior housing just across Jordan Alley from Unity Hall on  McMechen Street. The partnership transformed the once dilapidated  building into a state-of-the-art senior apartment building, rich in  amenities and resident services. In addition, the partnership  sub-divided the original Linden Park site in order to build a new  apartment building called “The Jordan”, which has 62 units of market  rate apartments with a ground floor restaurant called "The Tilted Row".  The Tilted Row, which opened in June of 2019, is already strengthening community  ties in the neighborhood by serving as an important gathering place  where neighbors convene.

The preservation of affordable housing for seniors at  Linden Park  and the new apartment units at The Jordan contribute to the realization  of the vision of the neighborhood-based HUD Choice Neighborhoods  planning process by creating mixed income housing and increasing access  to retail. The redevelopment of the Unity Hall will further strengthen  the neighborhood by adding important cultural significance and services  tailored for the needs of the community.

At the Unity Hall, the development team has completed preliminary  work to stabilize the building (roof work and waterproofing) and has  hired the architecture firm of Ziger Snead for design development. Interior demolition was completed in the fall of 2019 and full  scale construction will begin in spring 2020, with completion in late  2020.

In the short term, the Unity Hall partnership is seeking qualified  non-profits who intend to lease space in the building, either as  participating members who locate their offices there or participating  members who need programming space on an occasional but regular basis  for events, training sessions or community gatherings. It is expected  that rents will be below market for non-profits and that prospective  tenants will be able to cover costs of fitting-out their particular  office spaces. The commercial kitchen, the theater space, and other  common spaces will be completed upfront by the development team. In  addition to the financial contributions made by MAC and Somerset, the  Unity Hall partnership is seeking to leverage its already significant  investment in the building with other financial partners who are  interested in joining forces to provide to this important community  center in Central West Baltimore.

To date, interest in the mission of the Unity Hall and the use of the  space has been extremely positive. Organizations such as The Community  Policing Project (CPP), The Community Builders, and BOND have expressed  strong interest in serving as key anchor tenants. The Unity Hall is  asking for Letters of Intent from a variety of prospective leaseholders  and participating members.