John Hildreth got a rude awakening last summer when he put in a bid to convert the old Fairmount Hill junior and senior high school, a surplus city property, into condominiums for the Washington Hill community.
Though he was competing against five other developers in the city bidding process, he felt sure the proposal he submitted with partner Mark Crandell would be selected. They offered to pay the city $625,000 for the property, convert the building to 65 condominiums and a day-care center, and build 20 town houses on surrounding land. Their financing was lined up, and the Washington Hill community had expressed a preference for housing over institutional uses.
But the city awarded the building to the Kennedy Institute for a school for children with brain disorders.
Still, Mr. Hildreth hasn't abandoned his goal of developing affordable housing in Baltimore.
"We're looking for existing buildings that can be renovated for residential use or residential and commercial use," he said. "The people of Baltimore seem to want new space but within an existing building. They don't want to see the old buildings torn down."
Born 30 years ago, the son of a Washington policeman, Mr. Hildreth grew up in Beltsville and knew early on that he wanted to be in the construction and development business.
He got his first construction job at age 14 and went on to earn a bachelor's degree in civil engineering and a master's degree in structural engineering, both from Catholic University. After graduation, he joined the George Hyman Construction Co. of Bethesda and helped build large projects from New England to Florida. Five years later, he moved to the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions as an in-house engineer.
This year he made the big break, leaving Hopkins to open two firms. The first was the JDM Group, a development company that he launched with Mr. Crandell, a Washington-based architect. The second was John Hildreth Associates, a structural engineering and construction management firm that provides service to other developers.
By wearing two hats, Mr. Hildreth said, he hopes to be diversified enough to weather the economic downturn.
Mr. Hildreth's strategy is to identify areas where substantial growth is projected, such as the eastern edge of the Inner Harbor, and to rehabilitate nearby properties. He talks about the need to include a broad range of residents within a single project: the young and old, and people with different levels of income.
Though his first effort to acquire city property failed, Mr. Hildreth has his hopes up again. Housing officials are seeking developers for a surplus fire station in Mount Vernon, and he plans to submit a bid. "It's just our kind of project," he said.