The Memorial Apartments Corporation (MAC) and Somerset Development Company, LLC 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 musical performances, art exhibits, catered events and similar community-oriented activities, and host community organizations which provide 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.
MAC, 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 and break bread.
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.
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.
A Unity Hall Advisory Board was created in the spring of 2019 to advise MAC and their development partner Somerset, which is leading the design and development aspects of the building renovation. The Advisory Board is now made up of key stakeholders and community members: 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, Alexandra Smith of MAC, Eric Somerville of the YMCA, Patty Sipes of Maryland Center of Hospitality Training, Jeremy Lyons of Pique Collective, Tracey Bennett of Integrity Health Services, Nancy Hooff of Somerset Development Company, and Jessica Wyatt, an independent Community Engagement Specialist.
At the Unity Hall, the development team has completed preliminary work to stabilize the building (roof work and waterproofing) and hired the architecture firm of Ziger Snead who has led the design process and now completed the construction drawings. The development team is planning an early 2021 construction start with a tentative completion date of the fall 2021.
Renovation of the commercial kitchen and event/meeting spaces 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 and hospitality industries. The building will have an auditorium and common spaces which will host community events, art exhibits and music performances. Artist and music studios will be available, as well as co-working spaces. Office spaces for organizations serving the community will have access to common spaces such as a common lounge, kitchen, conference room, wellness room, and have access to larger meeting rooms.
MAC has signed seven Letters of Intent with community organizations who are committed to locate at the Unity Hall. Those include No Boundaries Coalition, BOND, The Community Builders, Maryland Center for Hospitality Training, Integrity Health Services, Inc., Pique Collective, and Single Carrot Theatre. The Unity Hall partnership is seeking additional interested community organization. Rents will be below market and a tenant improvement allowance will be provided. 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.