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.